Israel accepts Egyptian cease-fire plan

AP

The Israeli government has accepted an Egyptian cease-fire proposal meant to halt a monthlong war against Hamas militants in the Gaza Strip, a senior Israeli official said, signaling an end to the bloodiest round of fighting between the bitter enemies is finally approaching.

The official said a preliminary 72-hour truce was to begin at 8 a.m. Tuesday. He said an Israeli delegation would head to Egypt to work out a long-term truce over the next three days.

A delegation of Palestinian officials has been negotiating with Egypt in recent days, and representatives said they had accepted the proposal as well. There was no comment from Hamas, but the delegation includes Hamas members.

“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.”

The war broke out on July 8 when Israel launched an air campaign in response to heavy rocket fire out of Hamas-controlled Gaza. Israel expanded the operation by sending in ground forces on July 17 in what it described as a mission to destroy a network of tunnels used by Hamas militants to stage attacks. The army said it is close to destroying the last of the tunnels.

Several previous cease-fires have collapsed, including a similar plan for a 72-hour truce that broke down last Friday in heavy fighting. Both sides blamed each other.

The Israeli official said Israel will be watching the negotiations “with a certain amount of skepticism” given the previous failures.

He spoke on condition of anonymity pending a formal announcement by the Israeli government.