Gaza/Jerusalem, Aug 26 (PTI): Israel and the Palestinians today agreed on a long-term Egyptian-brokered ceasefire to end the devastating 50-day war in the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip that has killed over 2,200 people.
“An agreement has been reached between the two sides,” said Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri.
The truce began at 19:00 local time (9:30 IST). The ceasefire announcement was greeted by celebratory gunfire on the streets of Gaza City.
Sirens warning of rockets reportedly continued to sound in southern Israel. An Israeli military spokeswoman said the army was checking whether any rockets had landed.
Cairo’s initiative, Palestinian officials said, called for an indefinite halt to seven weeks of hostilities, the immediate opening of Gaza’s blockaded crossings with Israel and Egypt and a widening of the enclave’s fishing zone in the Mediterranean, the Jerusalem Post reported.
Indirect talks on more contentious issues, including Israel’s call for militant groups in Gaza to disarm, will begin in Cairo within a month.
Under a second stage, Israel and the Palestinians would also discuss the construction of a Gaza sea port and an Israeli release of Hamas prisoners in the West Bank, the officials said.
The Islamist Hamas movement, de facto ruler of Gaza and party to the Abbas-led efforts to agree a truce, declared victory for the resistance.
It’s “a day of the victories for our people,” Hamas spokesman Fawhi Barhoum declared before a cheering, screaming crowd. He praised the “steadfastness and resistance” in Gaza.
“The occupiers have tried to break them… but the delegation spoke with one voice,” he said of the negotiations.
A senior Israeli government official said Israel “once again” accepted Egypt’s proposed ceasefire.
Throughout the conflict, Israel has openly accepted Egypt’s ceasefire proposals and slammed Hamas for not doing so.
The Israeli official said the ceasefire deal, unlike previous ones during the conflict, is unlimited in duration.
The Palestinian official said the truce deal had been finalised after 48 hours of intensive shuttle diplomacy by Azzam al-Ahmed, head of the Palestinian delegation to the protracted, on-off truce talks in Cairo.
“Over the past 48 hours, he has been shuttling between the leadership of Hamas, Islamic Jihad, all the factions, and Egyptian leaders, travelling between Ramallah, Gaza, Doha and overseas,” the official said.
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, who is not part of Hamas and lives in the West Bank, confirmed open-ended ceasefire with Israel.
Abbas thanked “Egypt and everyone who supported all the efforts that resulted in this agreement to end the aggression.”
“Together, we will rebuild our free country,” he added.
Israel launched ‘Operation Protective Edge’ on July 8 aiming to end rocket attacks by Gaza-based Hamas militants and since then the fighting has killed 2,137 Palestinians and 68 Israelis.
Israel has said its military actions successfully destroyed dozens of tunnels used by Palestinian militants to smuggle weapons used to attack Israeli civilians.
One airstrike last week killed three high-ranking Hamas militants.
Hamas later killed 18 of its own, accusing them of being informants for Israel.
As news of the possible deal broke, a flurry of violence was reported. Warning sirens blared in southern Israel, indicating rocket attacks from Gaza. Israeli emergency services reported that one person was critically wounded and two others were seriously wounded.
Separately, three Palestinians were killed in an Israeli airstrike in Rafah, south of Gaza City, according to Ashraf el-Qedra, spokesman for the Palestinian Ministry of Health.