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Three-day ceasefire begins in Gaza Strip

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A ceasefire is under way in the Gaza Strip, after Israel and Hamas agreed to a 72-hour pause in fighting.

The truce started at 8am local time (05:00 GMT) on Friday, just hours after 14 more Palestinians were reported killed by Israeli tank and air fire in the coastal enclave.

Meanwhile the Israeli army said five of its soldiers had died in mortar fire near the Gaza border, underlining the need for a negotiated truce.

Hopes of an end to the bloodshed rose early on Friday after US Secretary of State John Kerry announced that Israel and Hamas had agreed to a joint UN-US ceasefire proposal. Both sides swiftly confirmed their commitment to the truce, after 25 days of bloody confrontation.

While the proposal was accepted by Hamas, a spokesman stressed it was dependent on Israel reciprocating.

“Hamas and all the resistance movements have accepted a 72-hour humanitarian ceasefire from 8:00am on Friday which will be respected by all these movements if the other party also observes the ceasefire,” Fawzi Barhum was quoted as saying by the AFP news agency.

Al Jazeera’s Imtiaz Tyab, reporting from Gaza City about half an hour after the ceasefire came into effect, said there had been an explosion.

“There was black smoke billowing over Gaza City, but we do not know what caused it”.

At least 1,459 Palestinians, most of them civilians, have been killed since Israel launched its offensive. About 60 Israeli soldiers have been killed, in addition to three civilians killed by rockets fired from Gaza.

Ceasefire talks

Hours before the ceasefire was announced, Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu, facing international alarm over a rising civilian death toll in Gaza, said he would not accept any truce that stopped Israel from completing the destruction of tunnels dug under the border by Palestinian fighters.

According to a statement by Kerry and UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, forces on the ground would remain in place during the ceasefire.

Israel and Palestinian delegations in the meantime will travel to Cairo for separate negotiations to reach a more durable ceasefire, the statement said.

A senior US State Department official said talks could start as early as Friday, depending on how long it takes the parties to reach Cairo.

“Our understanding is that the Israelis will make clear to the UN where their lines are, roughly, and they will continue to do operations to destroy tunnels that pose a threat to Israeli territory that lead from the Gaza strip into Israel proper as long as those tunnels exist on the Israel side of their lines,” the official added.

With Israeli forces remaining on the ground to pursue that mission, it could open the way for Israel to declare it achieved the main goal of its ground offensive and to pull troops out of the Gaza Strip. Al Jazeera

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