GAZA CITY, PALESTINIAN TERRITORIES — Israel and the Palestinians agreed Sunday to a new 72-hour Gaza ceasefire, accepting Egypt’s invitation to resume talks to end more than a month of fighting in which more than 2,000 people died.
The agreement, to take effect at one minute past midnight (2101 GMT on Sunday), clinched days of frantic mediation to stem a firestorm of violence that ignited after an earlier truce collapsed on Friday.
“Israel has accepted the Egyptian proposal for a ceasefire,” an official told AFP shortly after a Palestinian source confirmed accepting the initiative.
The Egyptian foreign ministry called for the ceasefire to begin at 00:01 local time (21:01 GMT Sunday) “given the necessity to protect innocent blood”.
It called on both sides to use the lull to “reach a comprehensive and permanent ceasefire.”
Such a deal must lead to the lifting by Israel of its blockade of the Gaza Strip, Hamas chief Khaled Meshaal told AFP in an exclusive interview in Doha on Sunday.
“We insist on this goal,” he said. “In the case of Israeli procrastination or continued aggression, Hamas is ready with other Palestinian factions to resist on the ground and politically,” he added.
Veteran Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erakat arrived in Cairo Sunday night for talks with Egyptian and Arab League officials on behalf of Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas, an airport official said.
Israel said its team would only head out once the truce went into force.
“If there is a full ceasefire on the ground the Israeli delegation will arrive in Egypt tomorrow,” an Israeli government official said Sunday night.
Israel quit a previous round of talks in Cairo on Friday when Hamas refused to extend an earlier ceasefire and fired rockets over the border.
More than a month of bloody fighting in and around Gaza has killed more than 2,000 people; 1,939 Palestinians and 67 on the Israeli side, most of them soldiers.
The UN says just under three quarters of those killed in Gaza were civilians, and around a third of the civilian victims were children.
Seven Gazans were killed, on Sunday, including a woman and two 17-year-olds, in a barrage of Israeli air strikes, and another 10 bodies were pulled from the rubble of previous strikes east of Gaza City, local medics said.
Israeli warplanes hit 41 targets, including a factory in Gaza City used to make cleaning products close to the main hotel where foreign journalists are based.
Militants launched 35 rockets at Israel, 23 of which struck southern Israel and eight of which were shot down, with the rest falling short inside Gaza, the army said.
'God Loves Martyrs'
In Deir al-Balah, angry young men bellowed slogans as they carried the bloodied body of one of the teenagers to its grave.
The army described the youth as a “prominent terror operative.”
“God loves martyrs! We will march on Jerusalem in our millions,” chanted mourners.
Since fighting resumed on Friday, the Israeli military said it hit more than 160 targets and killed at least 19 people, while Palestinians fired 110 rockets of which 85 smashed into Israel.
Israel said it closed its Kerem Shalom crossing used to truck supplies into the southern Gaza Strip after it was struck twice by rocket fire.
“We took the exceptional decision to close the crossing in order to protect the lives of workers and traders,” a defense ministry statement said.
For days, Egyptian efforts to broker an end to more than a month of fighting led nowhere.
“Israel will not engage in negotiations under fire,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told his cabinet on Sunday, warning the operation would not stop until there was a prolonged quiet.
In the West Bank, an 11-year-old Palestinian boy was shot dead by Israeli troops as he played outside his home in Al-Fawwar refugee camp near the southern city of Hebron, relatives and medics said.
The army said troops had opened fire during a “violent riot” but said it had opened an investigation into the circumstances of the shooting.
Israel’s Gaza operation has triggered a series of almost daily protests across the West Bank, during which 16 Palestinians have been killed, the Ramallah-based health ministry said.
The resumption of fighting has put Netanyahu under increased pressure from hardliners to send ground troops back in to Gaza to topple Hamas, the de facto power in the battered Palestinian enclave.
“There is no doubt that the only thing left to do now is to overpower Hamas, clean out the territory and get out as quickly as possible,” said Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman.
Public Security Minister Yitzhak Aharonovitch said that if talks to secure a permanent ceasefire led nowhere, going back in to Gaza would be the only option.
“The moment the door closes and negotiations do not bear any fruit and we are faced with continued fire ... there will apparently be no choice, and then we will go in,” he told public radio.