Gaza ceasefire sets stage for Cairo talks

Humanitarian truce brokered by Egypt holds in Palestinian enclave as both sides agree to take part in indirect talks.

A 72-hour truce took hold in Gaza on Tuesday as Israel withdrew troops following four weeks of bitter fighting and Palestinians ventured out to find scenes of destruction.

The guns fell silent after 29 days of fighting, bringing an end to the bloodshed that killed at least 1,867 Palestinians and 67 people in Israel.

Officials on both sides confirmed they had sent small delegations to Cairo for talks aimed at securing a permanent ceasefire after the 72-hour window closes.

Just minutes before the truce took hold, sirens wailed in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv as Hamas fired 16 rockets over the border, while Israeli warplanes carried out at least five strikes on Gaza.

Al Jazeera’s Imtiaz Tyab, reporting from Beit Hanoun in the territory’s north, said he could hear the Israeli air strikes just before the clock struck 8am local time.

“We haven’t heard anything outgoing or incoming since 8am,” he said.

Tyab said large numbers of Israeli ground forces had left the Beit Hanoun area, and residents were returning. Israeli troops had also left the southern Rafah area, according to Al Jazeera’s Charles Stratford.

As well as brokering the truce, the Egyptian government invited Israel and the Palestinians to attend indirect talks in Cairo aimed at securing a permanent end to violence.

Lieutenant-Colonel Peter Lerner, Israeli military spokesman, earlier said Israeli troops would “be redeployed in defensive positions outside the Gaza Strip and we will maintain those defensive positions”.

He said the army overnight destroyed the last of 32 tunnels located inside Gaza.

“Today we completed the removal of this threat,” he said.

Three similar ceasefire agreements have collapsed since the violence began, and Israel  had resumed  air strikes on Gaza after a patchy and limited seven-hour humanitarian truce ended on Monday, with one attack killing two people and wounding 16.

Both Hamas and Israel earlier confirmed the deal to Al Jazeera, with officials from each side pledging to commit to the truce and warning the other against violating it.

“The deal is that we will have a 72-hour humanitarian ceasefire,” Osama Hamdan, a senior Hamas leader, told Al Jazeera, adding that he hoped Israel could “control itself”.

“During those 72-hours there will be a delegation from Israel coming to Cairo. There will be indirect negotiations between Palestinian and Israeli sides for a ceasefire and the lift of a siege on Gaza and other Palestinian demands.”

Mark Regev, a spokesman for the Israeli prime minister, told Al Jazeera that Israel was ready to discuss all of the issues on the table, but that it still had concerns.

“Our goals in this operation have always been ultimately defensive,” Regev said.

“If that goal of protecting our people from the rockets and the death squads can be done diplomatically, through this Egyptian agreement, then wonderful. We’ll be looking very closely to ensure that Hamas does in fact … live up to its obligations.” 

Al Jazeera’s James Bays, reporting from West Jerusalem, said while the negotiations would be difficult, this time “neither side is prepared to have a stopgap deal”.

“Last time the Israeli military were continuing their operations. This time around it is different and it has a bigger chance,” Bays said.

Ban Ki-moon, UN secretary-general, urged “utmost restraint” after the truce was announced.

He urged both sides to “commence, as soon as possible, talks in Cairo on a durable ceasefire and the underlying issues,” his office said hours after the announcement was made.

“In this regard, he welcomes the proactive engagement of the Palestinian delegation under the leadership of President Abbas.”

In a separate development, Palestinian Foreign Minister Riad al-Malki said there was “clear evidence” of war crimes by Israel during the offensive as he met International Criminal Court prosecutors on Tuesday to push for an investigation.

Malki visited The Hague shortly after the truce began.

Last week, the United Nations launched an inquiry into human rights violations and crimes alleged to have been committed by Israel during its offensive, given the far higher toll of civilian deaths and destruction on the Palestinian side.