Israel and Hamas agreed to a ceasefire on Wednesday after eight days of lethal fighting over the Gaza Strip, the United States and Egypt said after intensive negotiations in Cairo.
The cease-fire, which is to take effect at 9 pm local time (2 pm EST), was formally announced by Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and Foreign Minister Mohamed Amr of Egypt at a news conference here. It appeared to avert an escalating battle between Palestinians and Israelis that had threatened to turn into wider war.
According to the truce agreement Israel will end its policy of assassinating top Hamas officials, while Hamas promised to halt all rocket fire by the many militant groups operating in the Gaza Strip.
After a brief cooling off period, Israel pledged to ease its blockade of Gaza, though there were no firm assurances on how that will be done.
Clinton, who rushed to the Middle East late Tuesday in an intensified effort to halt the hostilities thanked Egypt’s President, Mohamed Morsi, who played a pivotal role in the negotiations, for “assuming the leadership that has long made this country a cornerstone of regional stability and peace.”
The negotiators reached an agreement after days of nearly non-stop Israeli aerial assaults on Gaza, the Mediterranean enclave run by Hamas, the militant Islamist group, which had fired hundreds of rockets into Israel.
Hours before the the deal was announced, a bomb exploded on a bus in Tel Aviv near Israel’s military headquarters that wounded 27 people and led to fears of a breakdown in the shuttle diplomacy Clinton and UN chief Ban Ki-moon were conducting in the region.
An agreement had been on the verge of completion Tuesday, but was delayed on a number of issues, including Hamas’s demands for unfettered access to Gaza via the Rafah crossing into Egypt.
The Hamas Health Ministry in Gaza said the Palestinian death toll after a week of fighting stood at 140 at noon. At least a third of those killed are believed to have been militants. On the Israeli side, five Israelis have been killed, including one soldier.
Around noon on Wednesday in the Gaza Strip, according to the Hamas government media office, a bomb hit the house of Issam Da’alis, an adviser to Ismail Haniya, the Hamas Prime Minister. The house had been evacuated.
While there was no immediate or formal claim of responsibility for the bus bombing in Tel Aviv, a message on a Twitter account