JERUSALEM – Israel and Hamas on Monday accepted an Egyptian cease-fire proposal meant to halt a bruising monthlong war that has claimed nearly 2,000 lives, raising hopes that the bloodiest round of fighting between the bitter enemies could finally be coming to an end.
Still, both sides signaled a rough road ahead, with an Israeli official expressing skepticism, given previous failures, and a Palestinian negotiator saying, It’s going to be tough.
A last-minute burst of violence, including a deadly Palestinian attack in Jerusalem, along with continued bloodshed in Gaza and the reported execution of a number of suspected collaborators with Israel, served as reminders of the lingering risk of renewed violence.
After weeks of behind-the-scenes diplomacy and a previous truce that collapsed within hours Friday, Israel and Hamas both announced late Monday that they had accepted the proposal for a preliminary 72-hour cease-fire, beginning at 8 a.m. today. Egypt was then set to host indirect talks to work out a long-term truce over the next three days.
At 8 a.m. local time tomorrow, a cease-fire starts, and Israel will cease all military operations against terrorist targets in the Gaza Strip, said Israeli government spokesman Mark Regev. Israel will honor the cease-fire and will be watching to see if Hamas does, too.
The war broke out July 8 when Israel launched an air offensive in response to weeks of heavy rocket fire out of Hamas-controlled Gaza. It expanded the operation July 17 by sending in ground forces in what it described as a mission to destroy a network of tunnels used to stage attacks. Israel says the last of the tunnels has nearly been destroyed.
The war has taken nearly 1,900 Palestinian lives, most of them civilians caught in fighting inside Gaza’s crowded urban landscape, according to Hamas medical officials. Sixty-four Israeli soldiers have also died, as well as two Israeli civilians and a Thai laborer who worked in Israel. The heavy death toll has eclipsed that of previous rounds of fighting in 2009 and 2012.
Hamas is seeking a full Israeli withdrawal from Gaza, an end to an Israeli and Egyptian blockade of the territory, the release of Hamas prisoners held by Israel and international assistance in the reconstruction of Gaza.
Israel says the blockade is needed to prevent Hamas, an Islamic militant group sworn to Israel’s destruction, from arming. But the Palestinians and members of the international community have criticized the blockade as collective punishment. The blockade, known to the Palestinians as the siege, has ground Gaza’s economy to a standstill.
Israel has demanded that Gaza become demilitarized, requiring the unlikely cooperation of Hamas in giving up its significant arsenal.
Israel had been signaling in recent days that it was winding down its military campaign. On Sunday, it withdrew most of its ground forces from Gaza, and the army said the pullout was continuing Monday.
In addition, Israel declared a seven-hour pause Monday in its air campaign for what it called a window to allow much-needed humanitarian aid into Gaza.
Despite a drop in military activity, Israel still attacked 38 targets, though well below the levels of recent days. At least 20 people were killed Monday, including three children, according to Palestinian medical officials. Still, that was far below the levels during the heaviest fighting.