News / Middle East

Israel, Hamas Agree to 72-hour Ceasefire

  • Hajar Muharram, 5, sits in a classroom where the family of seven now live, at a U.N. school, in Beit Lahiya, northern Gaza Strip, Thursday, July 31, 2014.
  • Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (C) and Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon (L) attend a cabinet meeting in Tel Aviv July 31, 2014.
  • A woman carries a bag of food supplies that she received from a United Nations food distribution center in Khan Younis in the southern Gaza Strip July 31, 2014.
  • People pray next to the bodies of Palestinians from the al-Silk family during their funeral in Gaza City July 31, 2014.
  • Heygar Jendiyah, left, points to where the family house kitchen once stood, partially destroyed by a previous air strike, as her children Ranin, 10, center, and Helmi, right, listen, in the Sabra neighborhood of Gaza City, northern Gaza Strip,
  • An Israeli soldier stands atop an armored vehicle at a staging area near the border with the Gaza Strip July 31, 2014.
  • Israeli soldiers carry cases at a staging area near the border with the Gaza Strip July 31, 2014
  • Israeli tanks at a staging area near the border with the Gaza Strip July 31, 2014.
VOA News

Israel and Islamist militant group Hamas have agreed to a 72-hour ceasefire in their conflict in the Gaza Strip starting on Friday, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said on Thursday.

The ceasefire will begin at 8 a.m. local time (0500 GMT) on Aug. 1, they said in a joint statement. The statement said “forces on the ground will remain in place” during the truce, implying that Israeli ground forces will not withdraw.

Speaking from New Delhi, Kerry said neither side will advance militarily from their current positions, but that Israel will continue to destroy tunnels Hamas has used to smuggle weapons and fighters into Israel.

Kerry calls the next 72 hours a precious time for all parties to address the issues that brought on the last three weeks of violence. He says the people of Gaza deserve to live in safety and dignity, while Israel's security concerns need to be met.

Hamas, the dominant militant group in the Gaza Strip, said it would abide by the ceasefire.

“Acknowledging a call by the United Nations and in consideration of the situation of our people, resistance factions agreed to a 72-hour humanitarian and mutual calm that begins at 8 a.m (0500 GMT) on Friday as long as the other side abides by it,” Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri told Reuters.

“All the Palestinian factions are united behind the issue in this regard,” he said.

Israeli and Palestinian delegations will immediately travel to Cairo for negotiations with the Egyptian government to reach a durable ceasefire, the statement said.

Fighting continued, however, overnight. Hamas said it fired rockets at Israel, setting off air raid sirens in the area of Tel Aviv. Residents of Gaza reported further Israeli shelling.

Destruction of Tunnels

Earlier, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had said that Israel was determined, regardless of cease-fire efforts, to finish the destruction of tunnels that Palestinian militants have built under the Gaza-Israel border.

“We are determined to complete this mission with or without a cease-fire,” Netanyahu said in public remarks opening a cabinet meeting in Tel Aviv. “I won't agree to any proposal that will not enable the Israeli military to complete this important task for the sake of Israel's security.”

Major General Sami Turgeman, chief of Israeli forces in Gaza, said they were “but a few days away from destroying all the attack tunnels.” They have shut down at least 30 to date.

Earlier Thursday, Israel's military called up an additional 16,000 additional reservists, taking their total to 86,000, as military operations in the Gaza Strip continue, an army spokeswoman said, according to the French news agency AFP.

Israel's security cabinet on Wednesday unanimously decided to pursue attacks against Hamas "terrorist targets" and other operations to destroy a network of tunnels used by the Islamist movement between Gaza and Israel, public radio said.

Gaza Conflict, death tolls, July 31, 2014Gaza Conflict, death tolls, July 31, 2014
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Gaza Conflict, death tolls, July 31, 2014
Gaza Conflict, death tolls, July 31, 2014

While Netanyahu's security cabinet approved continuing the assault, Israel also sent a delegation to Egypt, which has been trying, with Washington's blessing, to broker a cease-fire.

Meanwhile, the death toll has soared.

Gaza officials said at least 1,400 Palestinians, most of them civilians, have now been killed in the battered enclave. Israel has lost 56 soldiers to Gaza clashes and three civilians to Palestinian shelling.

Lull in fighting brings out Gazans

Overnight, several large explosions lit up the sky as Israel continued its airstrikes and heavy shelling. Early Thursday, plumes of smoke could be seen rising above Gaza City. 

Later Thursday morning, a lull in Israel's offensive encouraged Gaza residents to go out and stock up on supplies. VOA Jerusalem bureau chief Scott Bobb reported seeing long lines outside bakeries and in vegetable markets.

Many Palestinians find it difficult to keep perishables because electricity is scarce, especially after an Israeli tank atttack shut down Gaza's main power plant Tuesday, Bobb said. And many are trying to feed relatives displaced by the fighting elsewhere.

The food supply has not been seriously disrupted, with new items coming through the crossing at Khan Younis, a town on the Gaza Strip's southern edge.

But food prices have climbed substantially since fighting began, Bobb said. Mosques are redistributing food donated by residents, filling in where U.N. supplies aren't available.

Attack on school condemned

The surging death toll has provoked international alarm.

Displaced Palestinian children collect water at the Abu Hussein U.N. school in Jebaliya refugee camp, northern Gaza Strip, on July 30, 2014. It had been hit by artillery shells earlier in the day.Displaced Palestinian children collect water at the Abu Hussein U.N. school in Jebaliya refugee camp, northern Gaza Strip, on July 30, 2014. It had been hit by artillery shells earlier in the day.
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Displaced Palestinian children collect water at the Abu Hussein U.N. school in Jebaliya refugee camp, northern Gaza Strip, on July 30, 2014. It had been hit by artillery shells earlier in the day.
Displaced Palestinian children collect water at the Abu Hussein U.N. school in Jebaliya refugee camp, northern Gaza Strip, on July 30, 2014. It had been hit by artillery shells earlier in the day.

On Thursday, a day after at least 15 Palestinians were killed in the predawn shelling of a U.N.-run school sheltering evacuees in Gaza, the United Nations' top human rights official accused Israel of defying international law by conducting its deadly offensive and of possibly commiting war crimes. 

"We cannot allow impunity, we cannot allow this lack of accountability to go on," said Navi Pillay, the U.N. high commissioner for human rights, Reuters reported.

She held Hamas culpable, too, saying the militant group's indiscriminate rocket fire into Israel violated international humanitarian law, Reuters said.

Pillay also scolded the United States, Israel's closest ally, for not doing "much more to stop the killing, to bring the parties to the negotiating table."

U.S. Secretary of State, John Kerry, announces a 72-hour humanitarian ceasefire between Israel and Hamas, in New Delhi, India, Aug. 1, 2014.U.S. Secretary of State, John Kerry, announces a 72-hour humanitarian ceasefire between Israel and Hamas, in New Delhi, India, Aug. 1, 2014.
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U.S. Secretary of State, John Kerry, announces a 72-hour humanitarian ceasefire between Israel and Hamas, in New Delhi, India, Aug. 1, 2014.
U.S. Secretary of State, John Kerry, announces a 72-hour humanitarian ceasefire between Israel and Hamas, in New Delhi, India, Aug. 1, 2014.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, in India Thursday for a meeting with its foreign minister, Sushma Swaraj, said he had continued to work toward a cease-fire.

A cease-fire "at some point is essential," said Kerry, who acknowledged working diplomatic phone lines while enroute. "The United States remains hopeful that it is achievable, and the sooner the better."

The Obama administration had condemned the school shelling Wednesday.

Spokeswoman Bernadette Meehan said the U.S. is extremely concerned that thousands of Palestinian driven from their homes cannot find safety in U.N.-designated shelters. She also condemned those who hide weapons in those shelters.

Israel said its forces were attacked by guerrillas near the school, in northern Jabalya, and had fired back.

It did not immediately comment on another incident, in nearby Shejaia, in which Palestinian officials said 17 people were killed by Israeli shelling near a produce market.

“Such a massacre requires an earthquake-like response,” said Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum, whose group has kept up dozens of daily rocket launches deep into Israel.

The U.S. on Wednesday announced the sale of weapons to Israel, including 120mm tank rounds and 40 mm illumination rounds.

Iron Dome serves as shield

The Israelis have kept casualties from the salvoes low with nine Iron Dome interceptor batteries and air-raid sirens that send people to shelters.

As the violence continued Thursday, the United Nations reported about 15,000 more Palestinians seeking refuge in its shelters in Gaza. That brought the total number to about 220,000, which is four times what the U.N. said it expected from the crisis.

Approximately 1.8 million Palestinians live in Gaza. The tiny territory's infrastructure is in ruins, with power and water outages.

Cease-fire negotiations

Both Israel and Hamas have voiced openness to a truce, but their terms diverge dramatically. Israel wants Gaza stripped of infiltration tunnels and rocket stocks. Hamas rules that out. It seeks an end to a crippling Gaza blockade enforced by Israel and Egypt, which view the Palestinian Islamists as a security threat.

The negotiations are further complicated by the fact that Israel and the United States shun Hamas as a terrorist group, while the go-betweens - Egypt, Qatar and Turkey - disagree on Gaza policy.

In the absence of a deal, Israel has ordered its ground forces to focus on locating and destroying a warren of tunnels with which Hamas has menaced its southern towns and army bases.

Three Israeli soldiers were killed on Wednesday by a booby trap detonated as they uncovered a tunnel shaft, the army said. Military losses are more than five times those from the last Gaza ground war, in 2008-2009, but Israeli opinion polls show strong public support for fighting on until Hamas is quelled.

Netanyahu faces intense pressure from abroad to stand down, however. The United States and the U.N. Security Council have urged an immediate, unconditional cease-fire by both sides in Gaza to allow in humanitarian relief and for further talks on a more durable cessation of hostilities.

Separately, the Pentagon said it had allowed Israel to stock up on grenades and mortar rounds from a U.S. munitions store located in Israel as part of bilateral emergency preparedness arrangement.

VOA's Scott Bobb contributed to this report from Gaza City. Additional information was provided by Reuters, AFP and AP.

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by: art
July 31, 2014 11:47 PM
the Gaza Strip is a concentration camp set up by Israel and its army for Palestinian people .today's Gaza is a Palestinian ghetto set up buy israeli army and navy , just as nazi;s set gettos in germany in 1940's and Israeli attacks are a war crime
The systematic slaughter of Palestinian people is the NEW Holocaust and is so sad that world EU, USA, and Russia are not doing anything about it and is even more sad because the Israel ARMY is doing all the same things to Palestinian people what hitler and nazi's did to poor Jewish people in Europe 70 years ago and Israel is doing SAME this to Palestine for the longest time now... everyone is surprised how come Jewish people don;t stand up and defend Palestinian people from all this injustice because Gaza strip has been so enclosed that looks like more like a prison....Israel controls all the sea, land, borders and airspace. Palestinians cant even fish in the Mediterranean sea, because israels nevy does not let them. . Whaen will world act and open Gaza up so Gazan's can live free like all the people in the world .....its so sad to see all the poor kids slathered in the school yards ....my hart is weeping from sadness....International community must act and Internationale courts must act to help all people in the world that are going thru injustice like the people in situations like in Gaza now


by: John Pombrio from: Manchester CT
July 31, 2014 8:14 PM
This truce will last only a few hours. Since the Palestinians are fragmented, some group or another will lob a few mortar shells or fire some rockets. The truce will then be broken and it begins all over again.

by: Raj from: India
July 31, 2014 7:41 PM
We support you Gaza! The people of Europe need to rise up against Israel. You give Israel free trade and military and then they slap you in the face. The UN created Israel the UN can dismantle it.

by: Mark from: SC
July 31, 2014 7:32 PM
We have more in common with the people of Gaza than we do the Israeli regime. Both want freedom.
Israel controls the borders, sea, and airspace. What do expect Gaza to do?

by: Pat from: USA
July 31, 2014 7:24 PM
I recently learned those tunnels Israel wants to destroy were made to bring goods and supplies into Gaza because Israel blocks these goods from entering into Gaza. So the truth is, Israel wants to starve out Gazans and prevent them from having medical supplies etc. So what this is really all about is genocide, not defense of Israel. To be sure many news stories on Israel has the official stating it is an OFFENSIVE not a defensive. It makes me wonder how many Americans read and understand the words.
In Response

by: micheal from: nigeria
August 01, 2014 1:24 AM
will you allow terrorist to roam your street freely? That is what isreal is trying to avoid tell hamas to renounce violent then isreal and the world will listen to thier voice

by: onefeather from: USA
July 31, 2014 7:23 PM
Good for Israel at least they take a stand to protect and fight against the terrorist Hamas. It seems like that CNN news is on the side of Hamas. How sad when you seem to be for the terrorist. I will watch another news station that knows right from wrong. This is war, people get killer including children but Israel does not use it's people as shields and a place to store weapons among them.

by: michael shelton from: seattle
July 31, 2014 7:22 PM
what tools did the Palestinians use to build "those elaborate tunnels"...spoons and spit?
we already know they fight wars with rocks and sticks...

by: honest Platinum from: USA
July 31, 2014 7:22 PM
Israel is more terrorist than Hamas.
Jews the money changer run walls street and gives a lot of money to both parties. There is one thing both parties agree, SUPPORT ISRAEL no matter what. This is a terrible for this country.

by: Jennifer from: southern U.S.A.
July 31, 2014 4:13 PM
This world population...secular and otherwise..are increasingly aware that violence is escalating everywhere. We are being fed different slants from different "news" sources that might not have noble motives...However...anyone who has read the Bible OR the Quran knows terrible times with terrible wars are coming....I am a believer in the teachings if the Holy Bible...i so hate to see war..poverty..displacement..lives ruined..and taken . I don't begin to understand the details of ALL of this..i just will say...AND YET I WILL REJOICE IN THE LORD. My Lord is the God of Israel. I wish noone else to be hurt ir die. But His will WILL come to pass.
"OUR GOD IS IN THE HEAVENS..HE HATH DONE WHATSOEVER HE PLEASES." So i continue to pray for the peace of Jerusalem..i also fervently pray that we ALL experience JESUS.He really is out true Peace.

by: Luther from: India
July 31, 2014 11:58 AM
May the God of Abraham, Jacob, and Issac protect Israeli soldiers from dying anymore and from those Hamas terrorists. Israel has very reason to escalate the destruction of Hamas tunnels till they are completely destroyed. Israeli's hitting of UN school was not intentional. At war sometimes it is unavoidable. Full support to Israeli actions!
In Response

by: Peace to all from: India
July 31, 2014 11:51 PM
People of India are with poor people and children of Gaza and Palestine who are getting killed by merciless heart of occupators of israel's nazi like armies.
In Response

by: John from: USA
July 31, 2014 7:45 PM
May God of Abraham, Jacob and Isaas forgive you for your cruel and merciless heart.
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