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.
    x
    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: yee san from: Burma
    July 31, 2014 11:53 AM
    " should have to detain the ego so that become the closest to have the real peace "

    by: meanbill from: USA
    July 31, 2014 10:16 AM
    Hamas is the greatest threat to Israel and needs to be eliminated, (but Israel say's the greatest threat to Israel is "the tunnels" that Hamas built), and must be destroyed..... and then, (the Israeli's for only God knows why), keeps killing all those innocent unarmed Palestinian civilians, (to destroy tunnels?), while completely ignoring those rocket firing Hamas militants, because of fear?..... destroy tunnels?... kill civilians? ... not Hamas?
    In Response

    by: Horatio from: Australia
    July 31, 2014 8:22 PM
    I agree with Godwin from Nigeria. Spot on. Glad to learn that there are other people in this world who are intelligent enough to see what is really going on. Well done Godwin.
    In Response

    by: Godwin from: Nigeria
    July 31, 2014 1:51 PM
    meanbill from: USA, can you define what you mean by innocent Palestinian civilians? Who really is innocent, the one who supports Hamas shooting of innocent Israeli civilians, or the one who keeps quiet while Hamas shoots rockets at Israel aimed at Israeli civilians? Is it the one who kidnapped and killed 3 innocent youths or the one who went in search of the missing boys and found them dead a few later? In Israel there is protest, people identifying themselves where they stand.

    In Gaza, everything is quiet, a perfect sign that the so-called "innocent civilians" are in full support of Hamas operation. It is not only the one who carries gun that becomes involved in the actual fighting. Support - material, moral etc. - account as much too. When you watch satellite footage of the rocket launching coming from seemingly crowded buildings, who do you accuse of launching them? Hamas of the civilians.

    Why does no one cry out from such areas against possible attraction of reprisal attack? Why is it only when Israel pays back that the world knows what is going on in such places? It is unfortunate people like you take advantage of this situation and mislead the gullible public. Thank God Israel has satellites that picture everything going inside there., so it can produce it for any interested party to see what it has done. The war started with rocket launch into Israel, it will also stop with stoppage of rocket launch into Israel.

    by: Lawrence Bush from: Houston, Texas
    July 31, 2014 9:29 AM
    There do remain a number of territorial disputes involving many countries in this world. Over such problematic sectors, there had been wars, casualties, destruction......... even, the very exchange of nuclear challenges do remain. The Israeli-Palestine sector and the current commotions therein do go on due to lack of mutual understanding and the very acumen to solve the territorial problem peacefully by constructive dialogue process.

    Israel is a rex democratic state. In the comity of nations that does stand. And, upon its rex status; so, upon the people of Israel, any kind of terror or defense attack that the Israeli govt. does have rights and responsibility to counter. Certainly, the Hamas terror bandwagon is brazenly active upon Israel. The banditry of the Hamas does stamp in digging clandestne tunnels into the Israeli territory; so, the hidden rockets and the launch pads in Gaza. All that do necessitate to be destroyed; and, in case of any cease-fire, steps must be there to demilitarizing the entire Gaza strip.

    by: Anonymous
    July 31, 2014 8:03 AM
    By killing innocent children in a UN camp Isreal is making no differnce to the indiscrinate acts of terrorist like hamas.on human grounds this must stop, the international body must stand up and say NO.
    In Response

    by: Horatio from: Australia
    July 31, 2014 8:40 PM
    Since Hamas never respected the life of Jews and that includes Jewish children such as the three Israeli teenagers murdered by Palestinian Islamists, an act that sparked this war, why on earth would you or any one expect IDF to respect the life of Palestinians including their children. Secondly, if Hamas did not hide behind women and children to store weapons in schools, mosques and hospitals; and, provided safe places for the civilians, then hardly any Palestinian civilians would have been killed. Hamas has exposed its civilians to the perils of death on purpose. So ask yourself who is inhuman in this war, who has been inhuman with suicide- blowing up to death countless innocent Israeli civilians in the past.? It's the 60% of Palestinians who have always been the war mongers directly and indirectly. Killing children is horrid but, some children grow up to be Evil, terrorists. Is that what you want to protect? or do you want another tragedy like 9/11?
    In Response

    by: meanbill from: USA
    July 31, 2014 11:18 AM
    Hey Anonymous.... Israel must destroy "the tunnels" (and I guess), the only way Israel thinks they can do that, is to kill the innocent unarmed Palestinian civilians, (and only God knows why), these Israeli fighters lack the courage to enter Gaza city, to defeat and destroy those rocket firing crazy Hamas militants, that keep building those "tunnels" all over the place.... (Any foolish person knows, it's easier to kill unarmed Palestinian civilians to destroy the "tunnels" Hamas built, than try to kill those rocket firing crazy Hamas militants, isn't it?

    by: Richard Wangcho from: Burma
    July 31, 2014 8:03 AM
    The cruel and savage Hamas must be punished.They are like animals.I also blame Israeli troups for shelling school and killing innocent children.

    by: Anonymous
    July 31, 2014 6:53 AM
    As far as I'm concerned, each side deserves this. I blame the Israelis and Palestinians both for sitting each other and then acting surprised when the other side shoots back.
    Israel should know that this attack will only lead to more rockets, and Hamas should know that hiding in schools will get civilians killed. They should just continue this war until there is nobody left to fight it any more.
    In Response

    by: meanbill from: USA
    July 31, 2014 1:36 PM
    Hey Anonymous.... Do you think, if the US hadn't resupplied Israel with tons of new bullets, rockets, missiles and bombs, that they'd stop firing and killing those innocent unarmed Palestinian civilians, and (save what they had left) for those crazy rocket firing Hamas militants, and just maybe, try to reach a peaceful agreement with the Palestinians, before they completely run out of ammunition?
    In Response

    by: Anonymous
    July 31, 2014 10:21 AM
    agreed, there will never be peace between jews and muslims, trying to force it on them is childish

    by: Mladen Sagovac from: Zagreb
    July 31, 2014 6:48 AM
    What Israel is doing in Gaza is by all means war crime against humanity. Ethnic extinction, cleansing. If this was done by any other dictator such as was Sadam Husein or Moamar Gadafi, One would be acused in front of internationaal tribune in Hague. Got forbit that Putin does something like that, John Carry would already screaming for A bombing of Moscow.

    by: Kafantaris from: Warren, Ohio
    July 31, 2014 5:56 AM
    "Arab allies were trying to balance their own overriding dislike for Hamas against their citizens' emotional support for the Palestinians, a balancing act that could grow more challenging as the Gaza carnage mounts." -- David Kirkpatrick
    This is the grave danger of Israel's offensive: It destabilizes Egypt and the other neighboring states trying to keep some appearance of order in the Middle East. The Arab leaders can hold back the will of their people only so long.
    In Response

    by: Godwin from: Nigeria
    July 31, 2014 2:07 PM
    Kafantaris from: Warren, Ohio, maybe you want to see a coming together of the Arabs to stage a war once again with Israel. I expect to see that too. But let me tell what scenario you want to see: a turning of Gaza into a level playing field like a football pitch. I think the Arabs themselves understand what is at play. It does not look like anybody likes to see the so-called "innocent civilians" in Gaza suffer, but the trouble is the Gaza population itself deserves what it is getting by not making any effort to stop the carnage caused by Hamas. Not once has anyone, even the UN agency out there, heard a voice of dissent against Hamas' operation in the enclave. Means all those in the enclave are not as innocent as they seem, but avowed enemies of themselves and Israel. So it does not matter to them if they die or live, if only to see that Hamas continues to provoke Israel. But take it from me, the Arabs must be at their best to keep their reaction low, even though it should be better than it is presently in refusing to talk down Hamas from its suicidal mission. Maybe it's just as well so that the stubborn Hamas gets quietened once and for all time.

    by: anonymous from: Kenya
    July 31, 2014 5:41 AM
    Let Israel destroy the terrorists.

    by: Leroy Padmore from: Jersey City
    July 31, 2014 5:37 AM
    There is no finding solution to this war with the Jews and Arabs. First and foremost, this not a political matter. If this was a political issued, then by this time there would have been end to this violence. The issue here is religious. Islam say Israel should be wipe off the map. why? for one purpose, that is Islam has to prepared ye the way for the Mahadi, the last Islamic saviour. And they have to Islamised the Middle East for the Mahadi. and in as much Israel is there, it is a problem. So this is an on going conflict. You see what the Isis is going in Iraq and Syria, destroying all the Christians symbols, the Church, etc. This is a problem. this is not a small conflict, this whole thing will lead into WW3, I don't know how the world will solve this problem, but this is a big problem. See what happening in Paris, and some part of Europe, why it has to be violence? Look at Israeli protesters and Look at so call Palestinians protesters, there is a big different. Do this problem is not political my friends.
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