Gaza cools amid truce

Israel agrees to 3-day cease-fire, uncertain over negotiated end to war

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GAZA CITY — Israel signaled Monday that it was winding down its 4-week-old war against Palestinian militants in the Gaza Strip, pulling ground forces back to the border fence, declaring that it had rooted out all the infiltration tunnels its troops had found and agreeing to a three-day truce starting this morning, this one urged by Egyptian mediators.

Monday saw a noticeable fall-off in hostilities during a truce declared by Israel alone. But it remained uncertain whether the government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu would agree in coming days to a negotiated end to the conflict.

Another possibility was that it would taper off the fighting unilaterally, while continuing to utilize targeted airstrikes such as one early Monday that killed a commander of Islamic Jihad, an ally of Hamas, the militant group that runs Gaza and was Israel’s main antagonist.

Talks were to occur in coming days in Cairo, where a Palestinian delegation has been meeting with Egyptian officials and an Israeli delegation was expected to travel soon, said a senior official involved in the mediation effort. Azzam Ahmad, head of the Palestinian delegation, said indirect negotiations would begin during the cease-fire, and the Egyptian Foreign Ministry said it was ready to receive the various parties.

Over the past two weeks, previous high-profile cease-fire bids have failed. But with international condemnation swelling as the Palestinian death toll in four weeks of fighting neared 1,900 — plus the deaths of more than 60 of its own troops — Israel appears to be finding that its motives for continuing an all-out Gaza assault are fading.

At the same time, a pair of relatively small-scale attacks in Jerusalem — one carried out with a piece of construction equipment — rekindled fears that repercussions could spread to the West Bank and Palestinian neighborhoods of east Jerusalem if the fighting went on.

Monday’s pause in hostilities, which began at 10 a.m. local time, did not apply to Rafah, at the strip’s southern tip, which has been the scene of heavy fighting since Friday morning. Those clashes precipitated the breakdown of the last brief cease-fire, one of several to collapse soon after being declared.

Palestinians have used previous lulls in the fighting to stock up on food and water and scour ruined homes for any possessions that can be salvaged, and they did so again Monday.

In the hours just before the hiatus, Palestinian militants fired more rockets into Israel, and Israel bombarded the coastal enclave with airstrikes, artillery fire and shelling from naval vessels offshore. Israel said dozens of rockets were fired from Gaza even during the hiatus, and Palestinians said an Israeli airstrike on a seaside refugee camp that killed three people had happened after the cease-fire began. At dusk, Israeli airstrikes resumed, and Palestinian militants fired more rockets into Israel.

Hamas derided the temporary truce as a ruse meant to divert attention from “Israeli massacres.”

Israel had drawn international condemnation with a strike Sunday at the gates of a U.N. school in Rafah sheltering displaced Palestinians, which killed at least 10 people. Israel says it struck a target nearby — militants on a motorcycle — and was still checking on what ordnance had fallen next to by the school entrance.

But both the United States and the United Nations issued sharp statements demanding that more care be taken to avoid hurting and killing civilians. The Obama administration called the strike “disgraceful.”

Hours after the deadly attack on the Shati refugee camp in Gaza City, which injured about two dozen people in addition to killing an 8-year-old girl and two others, the Israeli military had still not identified the intended target, but suggested that it had been aiming to neutralize an “operational threat.” The military said the strike occurred “around” 10 a.m. local time, when the truce was beginning, leaving open the possibility that it had been a few moments later.

Anger over bloodshed in Gaza has been growing among Palestinians in east Jerusalem and the West Bank, and Monday saw an attack using a tactic that was familiar more than a decade ago. Authorities said a Palestinian man apparently stole a piece of heavy machinery from a construction site, then used it to ram vehicles, including a nearly empty bus, in the nearly all-Jewish western part of the city. One man was reported killed and six others hurt in the attack; the assailant was shot by police and died of his wounds. Police spokesman Mickey Rosenfeld tweeted that the incident was being treated as a terrorist attack.

A short time later, another assailant, this one on a motorcycle, shot and wounded an Israeli soldier and then fled toward a Palestinian neighborhood in east Jerusalem, officials said. The shooting victim was reported in serious condition.

israel - Middle East - Jerusalem - Palestinian territories - Israeli armed forces - Israel government - West Bank - Gaza Strip - Benjamin Netanyahu - Hamas - Gaza


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