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Israel, Hamas start 72-hour ceasefire

A 72-hour truce agreed by Israel and Gaza militants started Friday at 0500 GMT, with diplomats hoping it will pave the way for a longer-term halt to hostilities.

GAZA CITY, Palestinian Territories: A 72-hour ceasefire between Israel and Gaza militants went into effect on Friday (Aug 1) as a diplomatic push for a more durable end to almost four weeks of bloodshed gained pace.

As the humanitarian truce began at 0500 GMT, the skies over the Gaza Strip fell silent, although in the preceding two hours, there was still heavy Israeli fire and the sound of outgoing rockets.

As the truce took hold, Gaza doctor Belal al-Dabour tweeted: "This ceasefire should give us a glimpse on our life for the coming months after Israel destroyed everything. It's not going to be pretty." Hours earlier, Israeli tank and air fire killed 14 Palestinians in the Gaza Strip, and the Israeli army said five of its soldiers died in mortar fire near the border with the Palestinian enclave.

While the ceasefire was accepted by Hamas, the main power in Gaza, in the name of all militant groups, a spokesman for the Islamist movement stressed it was dependent on Israel reciprocating.

"Hamas and all the resistance movements have accepted a 72-hour humanitarian ceasefire from 8:00am Friday which will be respected by all these movements if the other party also observes the ceasefire," said Fawzi Barhum.

A source in the office of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said: "Israel has accepted the US/UN proposal for a 72-hour humanitarian ceasefire beginning 8:00 am Friday".

British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond welcomed the halt to firing, the latest and longest of several.

"We should now redouble our efforts and leave no stone unturned, to ensure this is a lasting and durable ceasefire to make way for substantial discussions to resolve the underlying issues on both sides," he said.

Just minutes before the truce deadline, Palestinians continued to fire rockets into southern Israel, with five brought down by missile defences, army radio said. The ceasefire came after the UN Security Council expressed "grave disappointment" that repeated calls for a truce had not been heeded, and demanded there be a series of humanitarian breaks to ease conditions for civilians trapped in the war-torn territory.

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