Israel, Hamas OK 12-hour pause in fighting

JERUSALEM — Israel and Hamas agreed Friday to a 12-hour pause in hostilities in the Gaza Strip, a compromise after both sides rejected a plan for a seven-day cease-fire put forward by Secretary of State John Kerry, officials said.

The Israeli army said it would observe the pause beginning at 8 a.m. Saturday local time, and a Hamas spokesman said that the group, along with other militant factions in Gaza, had agreed to the lull.

There was no confirmation from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyhau’s office, and Israel’s acceptance of the pause was made by Kerry at a news conference in Cairo. “Prime Minister Netanyahu has indicated his willingness to do that as a good faith down payment and to move forward,” Kerry said.

The pause would allow for removal of dead and wounded from areas of combat, enable Gazans to buy food and seek medical care, and give time for the repair of electric and water lines damaged in the fighting, which have left large parts of Gaza’s population without running water and disrupted power supply.

The announcement of the pause came after a day of intensive diplomacy in which both sides appeared to be holding out for better terms than Kerry’s seven-day cease-fire proposal offered. Netanyahu’s office issued no comment on reports his security Cabinet had rejected the plan, and Hamas did not respond to the proposal.

Hamas wants international guarantees for the lifting of border closures imposed on Gaza by Egypt and Israel, while Israel is seeking assurances for “demilitarization” of the Gaza Strip and ridding it of Hamas’s rocket arsenal and tunnel network.

Hamas officials have also rejected a reported element of the plan that would leave Israeli troops in the Gaza Strip during the cease-fire period, allowing them to continue uncovering and destroying tunnels built by the militant Islamist group.

Fighting continued in Gaza on Friday, with new fatalities from Israeli bombardments and the reported Palestinian death toll climbing to more than 860, with more than 5,700 injured since the start of the Israeli offensive July 8.

The United Nations said that about three-quarters of the dead were civilians, 192 of them children, who were being killed at the average rate of 10 a day.

The Israeli army said that it had killed about 240 militants in ground operations. Thirty-five Israeli soldiers have died, and three civilians have been killed in Israel by rockets launched from Gaza.

Fresh salvos of rockets were fired at Israel on Friday, including some in the area of Ben Gurion International airport, where U.S. air carriers that had suspended flights to Israel resumed normal service following the lifting of a flight ban by the Federal Aviation Administration.

The fighting in Gaza set off fresh protests across the West Bank, and six Palestinians were reported killed in clashes with Israeli forces and in a shooting by a Jewish settler.

Ban, who joined Kerry at the news conference, called for a “seven-day humanitarian cease-fire extending over the Eid period, beginning with an extendable 12-hour pause.” Ban was referring to Eid al-Fitr, the approaching holiday marking the close of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.

Kerry said that there was no agreement yet on the weeklong cease-fire plan because “we still have some terminology … to work through.”

“We are working toward a brief seven days of peace,” Kerry said. “Seven days of a humanitarian cease-fire in honor of Eid, in order to be able to bring people to try to work to create a more durable, sustainable cease-fire for the long run, and to work to create plans for the long haul.”

“Gaps have been significantly narrowed,” he said. “It can be achieved, if we work through some of the issues that are important for the parties.”

Kerry said he would travel to Paris on Saturday, where he is scheduled to meet European counterparts and the foreign ministers of Turkey and Qatar, through whom Washington is working to persuade Hamas to agree to the cease-fire plan. The U.S. considers Hamas a terrorist group and has no contact with the organization.

Kerry said that no final proposal was submitted to Israel, and he discounted the Israeli security Cabinet’s rejection of the current terms of the plan. “Let’s make that clear,” he said, “there’s always mischief from people who oppose certain things, and I consider this one of those mischievous things.”

Hard-line members of Netanyahu’s Cabinet have criticized Kerry’s proposal, calling for expansion of the Israeli military operation in order to strike a harder blow at Hamas, eradicating its tunnel network and destroying more of its rocket stockpiles in Gaza.

Maj. Gen. Sammy Turgeman, the head of the army’s southern command, said that military forces had destroyed “at least half of the enemy’s attack tunnels,” some of which led across the border to Israel. The army said that it had uncovered 31 tunnel networks so far.

As ground fighting in Gaza continued, the Israeli military announced that Sgt. Oron Shaul, a soldier missing in action who Hamas claimed it had captured, was dead, but it acknowledged that it did not have his body. Hamas had given Shaul’s name and military identification number, suggesting that it had seized his remains after the explosion of an armored personnel carrier hit by an anti-tank rocket in fierce fighting on Sunday.

Fresh protests against the Israeli offensive erupted in several areas of the West Bank.

A Jewish settler in a passing car opened fire on a march in Hawara, south of Nablus, killing a man and wounding four, and another man was fatally shot during clashes with Israeli border police, according to reports from the town.

A border police spokesman said that “hundreds of rioters” at Hawara hurled stones, Molotov cocktails and fireworks at security forces and passing motorists. Soldiers and border police fired tear-gas and rubber-coated bullets to disperse the crowd.

At Beit Ummar, south of Bethlehem, three Palestinians were killed by army gunfire, Palestinians said. A military spokeswoman confirmed that there were “disturbances” and said that the incident was under review.

One of the dead was Hashem Abu Maria, 45, a father of three who worked for the rights group Defense for Children International-Palestine. A statement by the group said he was participating in a march in solidarity with Gaza when he was struck by a live round fired by soldiers during clashes with local youths.

In street confrontations at the al-Arub refugee camp north of Hebron, a Palestinian was shot and killed. A military spokeswoman said he had tried to seize a soldier’s gun.

To head off unrest after prayers at the Al-Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem marking the last Friday of Ramadan, Israeli authorities barred entry to Palestinians from the West Bank and men under 50. Stone-throwing protesters confronted police in one Arab neighborhood and were dispersed with stun grenades, a police spokesman said.

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