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Ceasefire holds in Gaza as Kerry aims to make it permanent

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Sangwon Yoon, Tal Barak Harif and David Wainer

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Ceasefire in Gaza aimed at ending fighting

Israel and Hamas began a 12-hour humanitarian ceasefire in Gaza after the efforts of US Secretary of State John Kerry failed to produce a longer truce aimed at ending nearly three weeks of fighting.

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A 12-hour ceasefire between Israel and Hamas was holding, bolstering US Secretary of State John Kerry's effort to bring an end to the conflict in Gaza that has killed almost 1,000 people.

The initial pause would help build a possible week-long truce for the Muslim festival of Eid that marks the end of the fasting month of Ramadan, Kerry said in Cairo yesterday. Israeli premier Benjamin Netanyahu "has indicated his willingness to do that as a good-faith down payment to move forward," Kerry told journalists.

Hamas, the Islamist organisation that rules Gaza, agreed to a humanitarian cease-fire starting at 7am local time today, according to pro-Hamas TV station al-Aqsa. Israelis Army said it would halt its fire from 8 am to 8 pm while continuing work to "locate and neutralize" tunnels in Gaza it says can be used by Hamas to strike Israel.

AFP PHOTO / JACK GUEZ

AFP PHOTO / JACK GUEZ Photo: JACK GUEZ

Neither side has agreed to Kerry's plan for a week-long ceasefire during which talks on a durable settlement can get under way. While the "basic outline" has been accepted on all sides, Kerry said, there are still problems of "terminology and context of the framework." He'll continue the pursuit of a truce today from Paris, where foreign ministers from European Union nations and Hamas allies Qatar and Turkey are due to join negotiations.

Susan Rice, President Barack Obama's national security adviser, told reporters at the White House that a 12-hour pause "would be a very modest initial step" and that "in some ways, I'm more skeptical of these very short cease-fires."

Sticking Points

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry attends a joint news conference with Egypt's Foreign Minister Sameh Shukri (not seen) in Cairo June 22, 2014. Kerry held talks on Sunday with President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi in Cairo over concerns about Egypt's crackdown on the Muslim Brotherhood and the threat which the conflict in Iraq poses to the Middle East. REUTERS

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry attends a joint news conference with Egypt's Foreign Minister Sameh Shukri (not seen) in Cairo June 22, 2014. Kerry held talks on Sunday with President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi in Cairo over concerns about Egypt's crackdown on the Muslim Brotherhood and the threat which the conflict in Iraq poses to the Middle East. REUTERS Photo: POOL

The conflict between Israel and Hamas has left more than 900 Palestinians dead, according to the Palestinian Wafa news agency. Two Israeli civilians and 37 soldiers have been killed since the violence escalated on July 8. There have been earlier humanitarian pauses during that period, for injured people to be moved or civilians to replenish supplies. Protests spread to the West Bank late on July 24, and several Palestinian demonstrators were killed in clashes with Israeli security forces.

Channel 2 and other Israeli media said that ministers at a security cabinet meeting late yesterday weren't satisfied with the latest shape of Kerry's broader plan. Kerry, at the press conference, said no formal proposals have been submitted, and declined to disclose the sticking points.

The Ynet news website reported, without saying where it got the information, that during a 12-hour halt Israel will continue to destroy tunnels used by Hamas militants to launch raids into the Jewish state but won't initiate fire. It also cited Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon as telling the army to be ready to "significantly expand the ground offensive in Gaza very soon."

Hebron Protests

Israel says its military offensive aims to end the barrage of rockets fired at its towns from Gaza, and destroy the tunnels. Hamas says the economic embargo on its territory must end as part of any accord. Egypt, which has mediated in past conflicts, is working with Kerry to broker a deal.

Israel, like the US and European Union, classifies Hamas as a terrorist organisation.

Palestinian officials have said they're planning to present charges of Israeli war crimes to the International Criminal Court. The UN Human Rights Council this week voted to probe possible Israeli war crimes, with only the U.S. voting no. Israel criticized the council's move.

Some of the biggest protests in years have broken out in the West Bank in sympathy with the people of Gaza. The West Bank is controlled by the Palestinian Fatah group, which recently reconciled with Hamas after a seven-year rift.

Palestinian officials said at least six protesters have been killed in clashes with security forces in Hebron, Nablus and the Qalandia checkpoint with tires burned and rocks hurled at border guards, according to Israeli news service Ynet. Israeli police have confirmed one death.

Airport Targeted

The latest Gaza conflict, the third in six years, deepened last week when the Israeli military added to its air bombardment by sending troops into the territory. Israeli financial markets have been mostly unaffected, with the benchmark stock index little changed since fighting escalated on July 8, and the shekel approaching a three-year high.

The Israeli army yesterday added Sergeant Oron Shaul to the list of those killed in action. Hamas had previously claimed it had captured the solder. Palestinian health officials say most of their dead are civilians, while more than 5,800 people have been injured.

Hamas's armed wing said it tried to strike the airport in Tel Aviv again yesterday, after international airlines this week temporarily suspended flights citing security concerns. Israel's army said its Iron Dome anti-missile system intercepted two rockets fired at the Tel Aviv area, and had no reports of injuries or damage.

Bloomberg

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