Israel, Hamas agree to 72-hour cease-fire

GAZA CITY — Israel and Hamas accepted a three-day cease-fire proposal from Egypt meant to halt the nearly month-long conflict between Israel and Gaza, officials said Monday.

A preliminary 72-hour truce was to begin at 8 a.m. local time Tuesday. Egypt would then host indirect talks to work out a long-term agreement over the next three days.

A delegation of Palestinian officials has been negotiating with Egypt in recent days. Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum said the group accepted the cease-fire plan.

"It's clear now that the interest of all parties is to have a cease-fire," said Bassam Salhi, a member of the Palestinian delegation. "It's going to be tough negotiations because Israel has demands, too."

An Israeli official told the Associated Press that Israel would respect the cease-fire, but that it was watching the negotiations "with a certain amount of skepticism" given the previous failures.

The official spoke on condition of anonymity pending a formal announcement by the Israeli government.

Several previous cease-fires have collapsed, including a similar plan for a 72-hour truce that broke down last Friday in heavy fighting.

The new temporary truce came after Israel's seven-hour "humanitarian" cease-fire had ended Monday. After that, airstrikes resumed on Gaza and an attack on a bus in Jerusalem killed one person.

In the Jerusalem assault, a man rammed the front end of a construction excavator into an Israeli bus, which police described as a "terrorist attack," indicating Palestinian involvement.

The attack occurred on a main thoroughfare near the unofficial line between Jewish west Jerusalem and east Jerusalem, the section of the city captured by Israel in 1967 and which is home to most of the city's Arab population. Israeli news media said the attacker came from an Arab area of the city.

Israel's Channel 10 TV showed cellphone video of what it said was the attack, with the yellow excavator slamming its large shovel into the bus. Police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said a police officer in the area opened fire and killed the attacker. A pedestrian also was killed, Jerusalem district police chief Yossi Piranti said.

In the past, Palestinian attackers have gone on deadly rampages with bulldozers in Jerusalem traffic. In 2008 a similar attack carried out by an east Jerusalem Arab left three Israelis dead and 30 wounded.

"Because of the quick reaction of the police an even graver incident was avoided," Piranti said.

Shortly after the excavator attack, Israeli media reported that a gunman on a motorcycle shot and seriously wounded an Israeli soldier. Police searched for the shooter in east Jerusalem.

"We believe there is a great likelihood this was a terrorist attack," Piranti said.

The brief lull was called to allow aid through to Gaza, but Israel's military said it did not apply to areas where its troops were still operating. The military had said it would respond to any attacks.

Since the weekend, Israel has been winding down its ground operation that started July 17 to destroy tunnels it says are used by Hamas militants to carry out attacks. The bulk of Israel's troops in Gaza have pulled out as its mission to destroy Hamas tunnels nears completion, the military said. However, it has kept up its heavy aerial bombardments of Gaza.

The fighting began July 8 when Israel launched an air campaign in response to heavy rocket fire out of Hamas-controlled Gaza.

Early Monday, an Israeli airstrike killed Daniel Mansour, a commander of the Islamic Jihad group, a close ally of Gaza's militant Hamas rulers.

Late Monday, after Israel announced it was resuming attacks on targets in Gaza, Palestinian health official Ashraf al-Kidra said an airstrike near a desalination plant in Rafah killed three people, including a 12-year-old boy and his 5-year-old sister.

Earlier, an Israeli strike hit a house at the Shati refugee camp in the northern Gaza Strip, killing three people and wounding at least 30, al-Kidra said. The Israeli military said it targeted an "operative threat" and rocket fire in the strike.

Gaza police said Israeli air, tank and navy gunboat fire targeted houses, agricultural plots and open areas. Israeli jet fighters destroyed three mosques, nine houses and a warehouse for construction material, police said.

Gaza's Health Ministry says that since the conflict started July 8 more than 1,880 Palestinians have been killed, mostly civilians. The Israeli military says that more than 60 of its soldiers have been killed in fighting.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has come under international pressure to halt the fighting because of the heavy civilian death toll.

On Sunday, United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon called an Israeli airstrike on a school that killed 10 people a "moral outrage and a criminal act" and demanded a quick investigation.

Although most Israelis back the government's operation in Gaza, some Israelis are skeptical about the government's stated mission to destroy the Hamas tunnel system.

"It's confusing to be a civilian in a situation where you don't really know if they are really considered a threat, these tunnels," said Tehila Ezrahi, 36, in Jerusalem. "Or if it's just something that they are just saying in order to justify what they are doing."

Kotsev reported from Istanbul. Contributing: Jennifer Collins in Berlin, Michele Chabin in Jerusalem; the Associated Press


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