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Israel, Hamas agree on Egyptian truce

| Tuesday, Aug. 5, 2014, 12:01 a.m.

JERUSALEM — Israel and Hamas on Monday accepted an Egyptian cease-fire proposal meant to halt a bruising monthlong war that has claimed nearly 2,000 lives, raising hopes that the bloodiest round of fighting between the bitter enemies finally could be coming to an end.

The sides signaled a rough road ahead, with an Israeli official expressing skepticism given failures, and a Palestinian negotiator saying, “It's going to be tough.”

A last-minute burst of violence, including a deadly Palestinian attack in Jerusalem, continued bloodshed in Gaza, and the reported execution of a number of suspected collaborators with Israel served as reminders of the lingering risk of renewed violence.

After weeks of behind-the-scenes diplomacy, Israel and Hamas announced that they had accepted the proposal for a preliminary 72-hour truce, beginning at 8 a.m. Tuesday. Egypt then was set to host indirect talks to work out a long-term truce during the next three days.

“At 8 a.m. local time tomorrow a cease-fire starts, and Israel will cease all military operations against terrorist targets in the Gaza Strip,” said Israeli government spokesman Mark Regev. “Israel will honor the cease-fire and will be watching to see if Hamas does, too.”

The war broke out on July 8 when Israel started an air offensive in response to weeks of heavy rocket fire out of Hamas-controlled Gaza.

Israel expanded the operation on July 17 by sending in ground forces in what it described as a mission to destroy a network of tunnels used to stage attacks. Israel says the last of the tunnels has nearly been destroyed.

The war has taken nearly 1,900 Palestinian lives, most of them civilians caught in fighting inside Gaza's crowded urban landscape, according to Hamas medical officials. Sixty-four Israeli soldiers have died, as well as two Israeli civilians and a Thai laborer who worked in Israel. The heavy death toll has eclipsed that of previous rounds of fighting in 2009 and 2012.

A delegation of Palestinian officials from various factions, including Hamas, has been negotiating with Egypt in recent days. Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum said the group had accepted the 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. We don't have any guarantees the siege will be removed.”

Hamas is seeking a full Israeli withdrawal from Gaza, an end to an Israeli and Egyptian blockade of the territory, the release of Hamas prisoners held by Israel and international assistance in the reconstruction of Gaza.

Israel says the blockade is needed to prevent Hamas, an Islamic militant group sworn to its destruction, from arming. But the Palestinians and members of the international community have criticized the blockade as collective punishment.

Israel has demanded that Gaza become “demilitarized,” requiring the unlikely cooperation of Hamas in giving up its significant arsenal.

Israel declared a seven-hour pause in its air campaign for what it called a “window” to allow much-needed humanitarian aid into Gaza.

Supermarkets were open for business, and more cars were on the streets than during any of the short-lived cease-fires since the war began.

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