Israel and the Palestinian militant group Hamas agreed to call a halt to more than a week of air strikes and missile attacks, after talks brokered by Egypt’s Islamist leaders and the U.S.
The accord officially came into effect at 9 p.m. local time today after Egyptian Foreign Minister Mohamed Amr and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton announced it earlier at a news conference in Cairo. Israel’s government has agreed to give the Egypt-negotiated agreement a chance, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said after the announcement.
Clinton said that she welcomed the accord and expressed hopes it will “move us closer to a comprehensive peace.”
The agreement aims to halt air strikes that have left more than 150 people dead in Gaza, and rocket attacks that have killed five Israelis, according to officials. Israel has hit more than 1,500 targets and Palestinians launched more than 1,400 missiles. Hamas, which rules Gaza, is considered a terrorist organization by Israel, the U.S. and European Union.
“I know there are citizens who would have expected a tougher military operation and that still may be required, but at this point the right thing for the state of Israel is to take this opportunity to achieve a ceasefire,” Netanyahu said in remarks broadcast on Israeli television.
Halt to Hostilities
The accord says that “Israel shall stop all hostilities on the Gaza Strip, land, sea and air, including incursions and targeting of individuals,” Egypt’s state-run Ahram Gate reported. It also says that “all Palestinian factions shall stop all hostilities from the Gaza Strip against Israel, including rocket attacks and attacks along the border.”
U.S. President Barack Obama spoke with Egyptian President Mohamed Mursi to thank him for his efforts, the White House said in a statement today.
“There was tremendous U.S. pressure on the Egyptians, who in turn pressured Hamas to accept terms which are not set in stone, including it seems regarding the Gaza blockade,” said Gerald Steinberg, political science professor at Bar Ilan University outside Tel Aviv.
“The Obama administration has now placed itself as the guarantor of the agreement’s terms, including the halt in rocket attacks, and they are probably going to be tested very quickly,” he said.
Israel says any truce must guarantee the end of rocket attacks, while Hamas is demanding an end to the blockade of Gaza and the permanent opening of its border with Egypt. It also called in the accord for free movement across Gaza’s borders, Ahram Gate said.
Israel has massed armor on its border east of Gaza and is calling up 75,000 reservists for a possible ground operation. An incursion would be the first since December 2008, when fighting left more than 1,100 Palestinians and 13 Israelis dead.
“Egypt stresses its historical commitment to the Palestinian issue and to the necessity of finding a fair and comprehensive solution,” Amr said. “It will continue its efforts to realize this noble goal through working” to end Palestinian divisions, he said.
“Egypt calls everyone to follow up on the implementation of what has been reached, under Egyptian sponsorship, and to guarantee that all the sides abide by what has been reached,” Amr said.
The accord stipulates refraining from targeting residents in border areas and said that procedures of “implementation shall be dealt with after 24 hours from the start of the cease- fire.” It also says that “Egypt shall receive assurances from each party that the party commits to what was agreed upon,” the state-run Middle East News Agency reported.
The deal, outlined in two main parts, says each side “commits itself not to perform any acts” that would breach the agreement and that Egypt, as the “sponsor of this understanding” would be asked to follow up in the case of any violations of the deal, MENA said.
Sirens were heard across southern Israel, including in the cities of Beersheva, Ashdod and Ashkelon, in the hour before the cease-fire was due to come into effect, Israel Army Radio said. An Israel army spokesman, speaking anonymously according to regulations, declined to confirm whether the air force had continued to attack targets in Gaza after the announcement.
Rockets or mortars appear to have been fired from Lebanese territory north of Israel without hitting Israeli territory, army spokeswoman said, speaking anonymously in accordance with military regulations.
--With assistance from Tarek El-Tablawy and Salma El Wardany in Cairo, Selcan Hacaoglu in Ankara, Saud Abu Ramadan in Gaza City, Gwen Ackerman, Alisa Odenheimer and Leigh Baldwin in Jerusalem, Donna Abu-Nasr in Dubai and Nadeem Hamid in Washington. Editors: Digby Lidstone, Ben Holland, Francis Harris.
To contact the reporters on this story: Jonathan Ferziger in Tel Aviv at jferzigerbloomberg.net; Calev Ben-David in Jerusalem at cbendavidbloomberg.net
To contact the editor responsible for this story: Andrew J. Barden at bardenbloomberg.net