By Laura King, Los Angeles Times
TEL AVIV, Israel — The warring parties in the Gaza Strip agreed Tuesday to a long-term cease-fire, both sides said, raising hopes that a 50-day-old conflict that has killed more than 2,200 people might be at an end.
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas announced the accord, mediated by Egypt, and a senior Israeli official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said that the agreement had been accepted.
Exchanges of fire continued up until the moment that the truce was to have taken hold, at 7 p.m. local time. One Israeli fatality was reported in a strike that hit the south — one of dozens of rockets and mortars lobbed into Israel on Tuesday.
The outlines of the cease-fire plan — the longest of the truces agreed to during the fighting — called for a lifting of the blockade on Gaza by Israel and Egypt to allow for reconstruction and humanitarian aid in the coastal enclave. Israel was also to halt its targeting of leaders and commanders from Hamas, the militant group that controls Gaza, and Gaza’s fishermen were allocated a larger zone, extending six miles offshore.
Those concessions depended on an end to rocket and mortar fire from Gaza. But many thornier issues were left for negotiations later.
Celebratory shouts and gunfire broke out in the streets of Gaza at the time the truce was to take effect.
Earlier Tuesday, Israel had inflicted punishing airstrikes on Gaza that reduced one high-rise building to rubble and badly damaged another, leaving hundreds homeless and injuring about two dozen people. The thunderous predawn bombardment — preceded by warning telephone calls and texts, together with nonlethal drone strikes — targeted a 15-story apartment and office tower and a high-rise complex containing dozens of shops, offices, and cafes.
Residents fled nearby homes as well while glass and chunks of concrete rained down, sending aloft enormous clouds of dust and smoke.
The Israeli military did not cite a specific reason for striking the buildings, though it warned over the weekend that any structure used by Hamas or other militant groups could be targeted. Up until Saturday, when the first high-rise was toppled, airstrikes had sometimes targeted a particular apartment or office in a tall building but refrained from leveling it altogether.
During the past week of renewed fighting, which broke out after the collapse of a previous truce, Israel also targeted individual Hamas commanders and officials.
The death toll in Gaza since the conflict erupted on July 8 has topped 2,200, with most of the fatalities reported by the U.N. to be civilians. Sixty-nine people have died on the Israeli side, all but four of them soldiers.
Meanwhile, the economic effects of the fighting were being increasingly felt in Israel. On Tuesday, the Bank of Israel cut its benchmark lending rate by a quarter of a point, bringing it to 0.25 percent. Economists were forecasting a slowdown in economic growth brought on by the conflict, which has damaged tourism and industry in the country’s south.
AFP Photo/Mohammed Abed
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