Cairo announces Israel, Hamas truce

Nov. 21, 2012 at 2:46 PM
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JERUSALEM, Nov. 21 (UPI) -- Israel must use the cease-fire ending eight days of hostilities with Hamas to achieve a long term truce, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu said Wednesday.

At a joint press conference in Jerusalem with Defense Minister Ehud Barak and Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, Netanyahu thanked U.S. President Barack Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton for their efforts to achieve a truce and said Israel and the United States will work together to prevent weapons from reaching Gaza. Netanyahu also praised Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi for his efforts to bring about a cease-fire, which was announced in Cairo.

"Above all I salute the people of Israel. We have a strong army. We are a strong people. I am proud to be your prime minister," he said.

Since Operation Pillar of Defense began, more than 1,400 rockets have been fired at Israel, 500 intercepted by the Iron Dome missile defense systems, Barak said. Hamas and the Islamic Jihad and other terrorist organizations operating in Gaza paid a heavy price.

"Over 130 terrorists were killed, 900 Palestinians injured ... [and] six [confirmed reports have said five] Israelis were killed," he said. Barak said Israel holds Hamas responsible to ensure the cease-fire holds.

As the press conference ended and the cease-fire went into effect, militants in Gaza fired rockets at a number of communities in southern Israel. Israel's Channel One said thousands of reservists will remain in the south and if calm is restored will be released gradually from duty. In addition soldiers were instructed to return fire only if their lives were endangered, the report said.

"It is the time to halt fire on both sides and end the bloodshed, and restore calm to the region," Egyptian Foreign Minister Mohamed Amr said earlier at a Cairo news conference, flanked by Clinton.

"The rocket attacks [from Gaza] must end and a broader calm must return," Clinton added.

Shortly after the news was announced, a siren warning of an incoming rocket attack sounded in Beersheba, Israel. Initial reports said a home suffered a direct hit and the Iron Dome missile defense battery intercepted four others. Barrages of rockets hit Ashdod, Ashkelon and other communities in southern Israel.

In response Israel's air forces hit two rocket launching sites in Gaza, Israeli media said.

On Israel's northern border two mortar shells fired from Lebanon, exploded near Metulla. No injuries were reported, Israel's Channel 2 said.

Word of the truce came just hours after terrorists threw a bomb onto a bus in central Tel Aviv, injuring at least 21 people.

Israel's Channel One television said a one-page document was drawn up, stating the sides would review the situation in 24 hours and would then discuss the Gaza blockade, a security buffer zone between Israel and Gaza and other issues. Israeli officials said the coming days will tell if the cease-fire with Hamas will hold or whether the rocket fire will escalate, forcing Israel to conduct a ground offensive. An Israeli government source told Channel 2 Israel rejected Hamas' demand to lift the blockade imposed on Gaza. Hamas, however, claimed otherwise.

In a telephone conversation with Netanyahu, Obama reiterated his commitment to Israel's security. No country can be expected to tolerate rocket attacks against its civilians, Obama said. He also said the United States is committed in providing funding for additional Iron Dome missile defense batteries.

The White House said Obama also spoke with Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi and thanked him for his efforts to achieve a sustainable cease-fire and for his personal leadership in negotiating the truce.

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