Printed on: November 22, 2012

Israel and Hamas agree to cease-fire


GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip (AP) --Israel and the Hamas militant group agreed to a cease-fire Wednesday to end eight days of the fiercest fighting in nearly four years, promising to halt attacks on each other and ease an Israeli blockade constricting the Gaza Strip.

Palestinian gunmen in Gaza fired into the air in celebration. At U.N. run schools in Gaza, where thousands had fled for protection, children and parents cheered and clapped.

"I just hope they commit to peace," said Abdel-Nasser al-Tom, from northern Gaza.

The deal was brokered by the new Islamist government of Egypt, solidifying its role as a leader in the quickly shifting Middle East after two days of intense shuttle diplomacy that saw U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton race to the region. Under the agreement, Egypt will play a key role in maintaining the peace.

Minutes before the deal took effect at 9 p.m. local time (12 p.m., MST) there was a last spasm of Palestinian rocket attacks and Israeli airstrikes, including one that killed a man minutes before the deadline. After 9 p.m., the attacks ceased. Israel launched more than 1,500 airstrikes and other attacks on targets in Gaza since fighting started Nov. 14, while more than 1,000 rockets pounded Israel. In all, 161 Palestinians, including dozens of civilians, were killed, while five Israelis died.

Standing next to Clinton, Egypt's foreign minister, Mohammed Kamel Amr, announced the truce breakthrough that capped days of intense efforts that drew the world's top diplomats into the fray.

The agreement will "improve conditions for the people of Gaza and provide security for the people of Israel," Clinton said at the news conference in Cairo.

In Israel, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said he agreed to the cease-fire after consulting with President Barack Obama to allow Israeli civilians to get back to their lives. He said the two leaders also agreed to work together against weapon smuggling into Gaza, a statement confirmed by the White House.

Netanyahu also left the door open to a possible ground invasion of Gaza at a later date.

"I know there are citizens that expected a wider military operation and it could be that it will be needed. But at this time, the right thing for the state of Israel is to take this opportunity to reach a lasting cease-fire," he said.