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Israel, Hamas agree to 72-hour cease-fire as fighting ebbs

JERUSALEM — After multiple broken truces, Israel and Hamas agreed late Monday to an Egyptian-sponsored cease-fire proposal that would bring a halt to the monthlong war in Gaza for at least 72 hours, beginning today.

The agreement was worked out between Egyptian and Palestinian negotiators in Cairo, and closely resembles previous proposals for an unconditional pause in a conflict that has left nearly 2,000 people dead, the vast majority of them Palestinians.

Israel did not send representatives to the talks. But a senior Israeli official said late Monday that Israeli forces had agreed to stop their operations at 8 a.m. today and will be watching Hamas to see whether the Islamist movement does the same.

Ezzat Al Reshek, a Hamas representative at the Cairo talks, said that the group will abide by the cease-fire and that it is ready to begin indirect negotiations in the Egyptian capital about the terms for a lasting truce.

The cease-fire deal comes at a time when Israel and Hamas appear to be curtailing their attacks. Hamas rocket fire has diminished in recent days, and Israel pulled most of its ground troops from Gaza on Sunday.

Nonetheless, the agreement is delicate. And as fighting in Gaza slowed Sunday, new flash points emerged beyond the territory's boundaries, with a pair of attacks on Israelis along the line separating East and West Jerusalem.

The assaults — one with a gun, the other with a backhoe — set Jerusalem on edge Monday, prompting Israeli police armed with automatic weapons to set up makeshift checkpoints. Ambulance services went on high alert.

Security officials said they think the attacks were a response to the conflict in Gaza, where sporadic violence continued Monday despite Israel's unilateral declaration of a seven-hour pause in the fight.

Just minutes after the cease-fire was set to begin Monday morning, Israel fired two missiles at a multistory house in the Shati refugee camp in northern Gaza, killing at least three people, including an 8-year-old girl, according to the Gaza Health Ministry.

Her 1-year-old sister was buried in the debris. Scores of rescuers searched for the baby in the remains of the collapsed building, using a jackhammer and their bare hands to remove toppled bricks. Eight hours later, the men were still digging, but even the baby's family had lost hope.

"She's under so much rubble," said her uncle, Zaki al-Bakri. "Only Allah can help us now."

The attack prompted Hamas to accuse Israel of deceit — a familiar refrain from both sides in a conflict that has proved to be a graveyard for truces during weeks of unrelenting bloodshed. Palestinian officials say the conflict has killed at least 1,865 people, including hundreds of women and children. Sixty-seven Israelis have died, most of them soldiers.

The war broke out July 8 when Israel launched an air offensive in response to weeks of rocket fire out of Hamas-controlled Gaza. It expanded the operation July 17 by sending in ground forces.

Israel, Hamas agree to 72-hour cease-fire as fighting ebbs 08/05/14 [Last modified: Tuesday, August 5, 2014 12:03am]
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