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Israel and Palestinians agree new Gaza truce

Source: Reuters - Sun, 10 Aug 2014 20:16 GMT
Author: Reuters
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Palestinians react as they help to put out a fire in an apartment which witnesses said was hit by an Israeli air strike in Beit Lahiya in the northern Gaza Strip August 10, 2014. REUTERS/Mohammed Salem
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* New three-day truce to begin at 2100 GMT

* Israeli prime minister had warned of protracted conflict

* Gaza rockets, mortars target southern Israeli farms

* 1,910 Palestinians, 67 Israelis killed in month of war (Updates Gaza death toll, adds air strike on mayor's home, Hamas comment)

By Nidal al-Mughrabi and Lin Noueihed

GAZA/CAIRO, Aug 10 (Reuters) - Israel and the Palestinians agreed on Sunday to an Egyptian proposal for a new 72-hour ceasefire in Gaza starting at 2100 GMT, officials from the warring sides said.

"Israel has accepted Egypt's proposal," a senior Israeli government official said, adding Israeli negotiators would return to Cairo on Monday to resume indirect talks with the Palestinians if the truce held.

The Israeli team had flown home on Friday before a previous three-day truce expired and hostilities in the month-old conflict resumed.

A Hamas official said Palestinian factions had accepted Egypt's call and that the Cairo talks would continue.

In a statement, Egypt's Foreign Ministry urged "both sides to exploit this truce to resume indirect negotiations immediately and work towards a comprehensive and lasting ceasefire agreement".

Earlier, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said "Israel will not negotiate under fire" and warned of a protracted Israeli military campaign in the Gaza Strip if rocket salvoes continued.

Hamas has demanded an end to Israeli and Egyptian blockades of the coastal territory and the opening of a Gaza seaport - a project Israel says should be dealt with only in any future talks on a permanent peace deal with the Palestinians.

Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri said negotiations during the new truce would be "the last chance" for a deal.

Israeli air strikes and shelling on Sunday killed nine Palestinians in Gaza, including a boy of 14 and a woman, medics said, in a third day of renewed fighting.

One air strike destroyed the home of Gaza City's mayor, Nezar Hijazi, across the street from the Reuters bureau where reporters and cameramen hit the floor as the explosion occurred. There were no casualties in the attack because Israel telephoned warnings to residents in the house and neighbouring buildings.

The Israeli military said it targeted 11 "terror squads" in Gaza among them gunmen involved in or preparing to fire rockets.

Since the previous ceasefire expired, Palestinian rocket and mortar salvoes have focused on Israeli kibbutzim, or collective farms, just across the border in what appeared to be a strategy of sapping the Jewish state's morale without triggering another ground invasion of the tiny Gaza Strip.

A month of war has killed 1,910 Palestinians and 67 Israelis while devastating wide tracts of densely-populated Gaza. But international pressure for a ceasefire has been weaker than in earlier rounds of Israeli-Palestinian conflict given other international security crises, notably in Iraq and Ukraine, distracting major powers.

However, the violence over the past three days has been less intense than at the war's outset, with reduced firing on both sides. Israel withdrew ground forces from Gaza on Tuesday.

BLOCKADES

Before the truce ran out, Israel said it was ready to agree to an extension. Hamas did not agree, calling for an end to the economically stifling blockade of the enclave that both Israel and Egypt, which regards the Islamist movement as a security threat, have imposed.

Israel has resisted easing access to Gaza, suspecting Hamas could then restock with weapons from abroad.

A sticking point has been Israel's demand for guarantees that Hamas would not use any reconstruction supplies sent to Gaza to build more tunnels of the sort that Palestinian fighters have used to infiltrate the Jewish state.

Egypt is meeting separately with each party, given that Hamas rejects Israel's right to exist and Israel regards the group as a terrorist organisation.

Gaza hospital officials say the Palestinian death toll has been mainly civilian since the July 8 launch of Israel's military campaign to quell Gaza rocket fire.

Israel has lost 64 soldiers and three civilians to the war, where losses of non-combatants in Gaza and the destruction of thousands of homes have drawn international condemnation.

Israeli tanks and infantry left the enclave on Tuesday after the army said it had completed its main mission of destroying more than 30 tunnels dug by militants for cross-border attacks.

In renewed fighting since the end of a three-day truce on Friday, Israel has killed 19 Palestinians in air strikes. Militants have fired more than 130 projectiles, mostly short-range rockets and mortar bombs, at Israel.

Though Israel's Iron Dome rocket interceptor does not work at such short ranges - a version called "Iron Beam" is being developed to shoot down mortars - there have been few casualties, largely because as many as 80 percent of the border kibbutzim's 5,000 residents fled before last week's ceasefire.

Some said on Sunday they would not return to their communities, which have long been symbols of Israel's pioneering spirit - an abandonment likely to raise pressure on Netanyahu.

(Additional reporting by Lin Noueihed in Cairo, Dan Williams, Allyn Fisher-Ilan and Ori Lewis in Jerusalem; Writing by Jeffrey Heller in Jerusalem; Editing by Janet Lawrence)

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