Israel and Hamas, the radical Islamist group that controls the Gaza Strip, have agreed to a ceasefire following an Egyptian-mediated peace negotiation to end the week-long cross-border hostilities that have led to the death of at least 150 people, it was announced Wednesday.
The deal was announced by Egyptian foreign minister Mohamed Kamel Amr at a joint press conference with U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in Cairo. He said the ceasefire will come into effect at 19:00 GMT on Wednesday.
"The United States welcomes the agreement today for a ceasefire. In the days ahead, the United States will work with partners in the region to consolidate this progress," Clinton said. She indicated that the deal came at "a critical moment for the region."
Meanwhile, a statement issued by the office of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu confirmed that Israel had accepted the truce deal, while indicating Netanyahu had consulted U.S. president Barack Obama before agreeing to the ceasefire.
"A short while ago Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu spoke with (US) President Barack Obama and agreed to his recommendation to give a chance to an Egyptian proposal for a ceasefire and thereby give an opportunity for the stabilization of the situation and a calming of it," the statement said.
Subsequently, the White House issued a statement praising the Israeli PM's decision. The statement said President Obama "commended the prime minister for agreeing to the Egyptian ceasefire proposal, which the president recommended the prime minster do, while reiterating that Israel maintains the right to defend itself."
According to the statement, Obama assured Netanyahu during their conversation that "the United States would use the opportunity offered by a ceasefire to intensify efforts to help Israel address its security needs, especially the issue of the smuggling of weapons and explosives into Gaza."
Obama had sent Clinton to the Middle East on Tuesday to try and mediate a truce between Israel and Hamas. After her arrival in Israel Tuesday night, the top U.S. diplomat held late-night talks with Netanyahu in Jerusalem before heading to the West Bank city of Ramallah on Wednesday to meet with Palestinian leaders there.
Nevertheless, Clinton did not hold talks with Hamas officials, as most western nations as well as Israel consider the Islamist group a terrorist organization due to its refusal to give up violence and recognize the Jewish nation.
Following her talks in Israel and the West bank, Clinton traveled to Cairo, where she jointly announced the truce deal with her Egyptian counterpart. UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon is also indicated to have played an active role in the shuttle diplomacy to end hostilities between the two sides.
The details of the ceasefire are yet to be announced. Officials familiar with the talks had indicated earlier that Hamas was demanding an end to the Israeli blockade on Gaza as well as targeted Israeli strikes on its senior members, while Israel was seeking an end to cross-border rocket attacks from Gaza in exchange for the ceasefire.
The developments came as the Israeli onslaught on the Gaza Strip as well as rocket fire on the Jewish nation from Gaza extended to a eighth straight day Wednesday. Officials in Gaza say at least 160 Palestinians, including women and children, have been killed in the Israeli strikes since they began last week.
Meanwhile, Israel has confirmed that five of its citizens have been killed in the militant rocket strikes since last Wednesday. At least 24 people were wounded in an apparent bomb attack on a bus in Tel Aviv earlier on Wednesday, with both Israel and the U.S. describing the bombing as a "terror attack."
Hostilities began last Wednesday after an Israeli airstrike killed Hamas' military chief Ahmed Said Khalil al-Jabari. The Israeli military said that the subsequent airstrikes were part of a wider military operation targeting Palestinian militant groups in the Gaza Strip in order to limit their rocket-firing capabilities.
Egypt had been desperately attempting to persuade the two rival sides to halt all cross-border hostilities at least temporarily to facilitate further mediated negotiations to find a permanent solution to the conflict. Interestingly, Hamas is an offshoot of the Muslim Brotherhood, which is currently in power in Egypt.
by RTT Staff Writer
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