UN/Jerusalem, Aug 1 (PTI): Israel and Hamas today agreed to an unconditional 72-hour ceasefire in Gaza even as the US said the deal to be negotiated in Cairo by Israeli and Palestinians is an opportunity to find a long-term solution to end the deadly 25-day conflict that has claimed over 1,500 lives.
A joint statement issued by UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and US Secretary of State John Kerry said that the UN representative in Jerusalem, Special Coordinator Robert Serry, has "received assurances" that all parties have agreed to an unconditional humanitarian ceasefire in Gaza.
The ceasefire will commence at 0500 GMT (8 AM local time) today and will last for 72 hours unless extended. During this time the forces on the ground will remain in place.
Israeli and Palestinian delegations will immediately go to Cairo for negotiations with the Egyptian government, at the invitation of Egypt, aimed at reaching a durable truce. The two sides will raise all issues of concern in these talks.
"We urge all parties to act with restraint until this humanitarian ceasefire begins, and to fully abide by their commitments during the ceasefire," the statement said.
The ceasefire is "critical to giving innocent civilians a much-needed reprieve from violence," it said. Egypt has invited Israel and the Palestinian Authority to send delegates to Cairo for truce talks, after the 72-hour ceasefire in Gaza was announced.
"Egypt emphasises the importance of both sides committing to the ceasefire so the negotiations can take place in a favourable atmosphere," the Egyptian foreign ministry said in a statement. The delegations are expected to start arriving in Cairo later today.
Since Israel began its offensive in Gaza on July 8, at least 1,450 Palestinians have been killed, along with 61 Israeli soldiers and three Israeli civilians.
"This is not a time for congratulations and joy, or anything except a serious determination, a focus by everybody to try to figure out the road ahead. This is a respite. It's a moment of opportunity, not an end; it's not a solution. It's the opportunity to find the solution," Kerry, who fell short of winning a truce in Cairo last week, said.
"We have to understand that all the people involved in this have strong demands and strong visions about what the future should look like. Israel has to be able to live in peace and security, without terror attacks, without rockets, without tunnels, without sirens going off in the day," Kerry said.
"And Palestinians need to be able to live with the opportunity to educate their children and move freely and share in the rest of the world, and to lead a life that is different from the one they have long suffered. So we hope that this moment of opportunity will be grabbed by the parties, but no one can force them to do that," he said.
Kerry was addressing reporters in New Delhi where he is meeting Indian leaders to foster bilateral ties. He said, "US President Barack Obama hopes that all the parties will work diligently to do so."
The 72-hour ceasefire is a lull of opportunity, a moment for the sides and the different factions to be able to come together with the state of Israel in an effort to try to address ways to find a sustainable ceasefire and over a longer period of time, address the underlying issues, he said. The US, Kerry said, will also join in the effort to provide humanitarian assistance.
"(US President Barack) Obama has made available some USD 47 million to help ensure that some of the relief is able to come in, and many of our international partners have also made commitments over the course of the last weeks," he said.
"While we are grateful that the violence and the bloodshed has the opportunity to stop for more than 24 hours, it is up to the parties to take advantage of this moment. There are no guarantees. This is a difficult, complicated issue, years and years in the building, and I think everyone knows it has not been easy to get to this point," he said. The UN and US shepherded a ceasefire that begins at 8 am local time today in Gaza.
During the ceasefire, civilians in Gaza will receive urgently needed humanitarian relief and would be able to carry out vital functions, including burying the dead, taking care of the injured, and restocking food supplies. Overdue repairs on essential water and energy infrastructure could also continue during this period.
"We thank key regional stakeholders for their vital support of this process, and count on a continued collaborative international effort to assist Egypt and the parties reach a durable ceasefire as soon as possible," Ban and Kerry said in the statement.