Cease-fire reached in Gaza conflict

Posted at 3:38 PM, Nov 21, 2012
and last updated 2012-11-21 17:38:44-05

By the CNN Wire Staff

NEAR THE ISRAEL-GAZA BORDER (CNN) — After eight days of violence along Israel’s border with Gaza and nearly 150 deaths — the vast majority of them Palestinian — a cease-fire was declared Wednesday.

The cease-fire, announced in a joint news conference in Cairo with U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Egyptian Foreign Minister Mohamed Kamel Amr, took effect at 9 p.m. (2 p.m. ET).

The agreement came after a day of negotiations that included Clinton, Egyptian President Mohamed Morsy and Palestinian officials.

Israeli government spokesman Mark Regev said the agreement calls for “complete and total cessation of all hostile activity initiated in the Gaza Strip.”

“For us, that’s victory. That’s what we wanted,” he said.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warned of possible additional military action if the cease-fire fails to lead to long-term security.

“But at this time, the right thing for the state of Israel is to exhaust this opportunity to obtain a long-term cease fire,” he said.

Netanyahu said he agreed to Barack Obama’s suggestion that he accept the cease-fire, and he thanked the U.S. president for his “unreserved support” of Israel’s actions.

Israel launched its offensive eight days ago with a stated goal of ending the frequent rocket attacks on southern Israel from inside Gaza.

“Their attempts backfired against them,” said Khaled Meshaal, a Hamas political leader. “They wanted to destroy the infrastructure of the resistance of Hamas. They claim they have done so, and they have not. They are bankrupt.”

He cited Israel’s destruction of buildings and killings that included civilians. “This is their accomplishment,” he said. “They have nothing else to show. And our rockets continued to strike them until the last minute.”

Israel will hold Hamas responsible for any attacks from Gaza, whether conducted by that organization or any others, Regev said. He said the agreement reflects that understanding.

As he was preparing to return to New York from Tel Aviv, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said late Wednesday his biggest concern was for the safety of civilians, “no matter where they are. Innocent people, including children, have been killed or injured on both sides. Families on both sides were forced to cower in fear as the violence raged around them.”

He said that since November 14, more than 139 Palestinians had been killed, more than 70 of them civilians, and more than 900 were injured. In addition, some 10,000 Palestinians had lost their homes, he said, adding there was a critical need for humanitarian aid in the territory.

During that same time, rocket fire has killed four Israeli civilians and wounded 219 other people, most of them civilians, three of them seriously, Ban said. In addition, one Israeli soldier was killed and 16 were wounded, one critically, he said.

In all, 1,456 rockets were estimated to have been fired from Gaza into Israel, with three long-range missiles hitting the outskirts of Jerusalem, a move he called “unprecedented.”

Since the violence began with the assassination by Israel of Ahmed al-Ja’abari, the head of Hamas’ military wing, Israeli forces have reported strikes on more than 1,450 targets in Gaza, Ban said. They targeted, but were not limited to, attacks on rocket-launching sites, military bases, police stations and tunnels along the border with Egypt, he said.

Hundreds of other buildings were hit, Ban said, adding that he condemned “indiscriminate rocket fire from Gaza into Israel,” but also believed that the “excessive and disproportionate use of force that endangers civilian lives is intolerable.”

Long-term solutions for Gaza and the Palestinians in general must be found, he said.

“Once calm is fully restored and the violence ends, a broader cease-fire will have to address all the underlying causes of conflict, including the full opening of crossings, Palestinian reconciliation and an end to weapons smuggling.”

Regev said the deal calls for talks to begin Thursday on easing economic restrictions on Gaza.

“If the border is quiet, that enables us to be more forthcoming,” he said.

Clinton, who shuttled among Israel, the West Bank and Egypt to help negotiate the deal, said the United States will continue to work with regional partners to implement and expand the agreement.

“For it to hold, the rocket attacks must end, a broader calm return,” she said.

Obama spoke Wednesday morning with Morsy, thanking the Egyptian leader for his leadership in negotiating the cease-fire proposal.

As recently as Wednesday afternoon, Hamas officials had been calling for more strikes against Israel, while that country’s military continued to press its campaign against what it said were suspected rocket-launching sites and “terrorist hideouts.”

Eleven people died Wednesday in Gaza, according to the Hamas-run al-Aqsa television station, bringing the death toll in the Palestinian territory to 142 in eight days.

Five people died in Israel, and scores more were wounded — including four soldiers hurt Wednesday in a mortar attack in the Eshkol region, the IDF said.

The cease-fire talks, held in the West Bank, Israel and Cairo, continued despite a lunchtime bus attack near the Defense Ministry headquarters in Tel Aviv. At least two bombs were planted on the bus, Israeli police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said. One of the bombs exploded, blowing out the windows of the bus, he said.

Rosenfeld said 24 people were wounded, three of them seriously. Aviva Shemer with Ichilov Hospital said pedestrians were among the injured. Ban said that 23 people were wounded.

How Middle East has changed since last Gaza conflict

Police said they were seeking at least one and possibly two suspects.

Hamas put its own spin on the attack in a banner on al-Aqsa, calling it “a natural response to the massacre of the al-Dalou family and targeting of innocent Palestinian civilians.”

Nine members of the al-Dalou family died Sunday in an Israeli airstrike, provoking outrage among Palestinians.

“We told you #IDF that our blessed hands will reach your leaders and soldiers wherever they are,” the al Qassam Brigades, the military wing of Hamas, said on Twitter. “You opened the Gates of Hell on Yourselves.”

Before Wednesday’s cease-fire announcement, Israeli bombs and artillery turned buildings, tunnels and bridges in Gaza into rubble in what Israeli authorities said were 100 strikes.

Hamas struck back with at least 62 rockets aimed at southern Israel, the Israeli military said.

Militants, meanwhile, lobbed rockets and missiles toward Israel, targeting military bases, radar sites and numerous cities, including Beer Sheva, according to the al Qassam Brigades’ Twitter feed.

Diplomats said they were hoping to avoid a repeat of 2008 and 2009, when at least 1,400 people died when Israeli troops invaded Gaza after a similar spate of rocket attacks.

In striving for the deal reached Wednesday night, Clinton shuttled between meetings with Palestinian and Israeli leaders, then moved to Cairo, where she met with Morsy.

She met earlier in the day with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in Ramallah in the West Bank, the U.S. Embassy reported, and with Netanyahu in Jerusalem for a second day.

CNN’s Ben Brumfield, Dana Ford, Arwa Damon, Ben Wedeman, Christiane Amanpour, Mohamed Fadel Fahmy, Saad Abedine, Sara Sidner, Frederik Pleitgen, Kareem Khadder, Saad Abedine, Ingrid Formanek, Nicki Goulding, Neda Farshbaf, Marilia Brocchetto and Reza Sayah contributed to this report.

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