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Updated: Mon, 04 Aug 2014 16:11:12 GMT | By The Associated Press, cbc.ca

Gaza conflict: 72-hour ceasefire could begin Tuesday, report says



A Palestinian youth sits on a gas cooking bottle that was salvaged from the rubble of his family apartment in a building hit by Israeli strikes, in Beit Lahiya, northern Gaza Strip, Monday, Aug. 4, 2014. (© AP Photo/Adel Hana)

A Palestinian youth sits on a gas cooking bottle that was salvaged from the rubble of his family apartment in a building hit by Israeli strikes, in Beit Lahiya, northern Gaza Strip, Monday, Aug. 4, 2014. (AP Photo/Adel Hana) Adel Hana/Associated Press

A brief ceasefire declared by Israel and troop withdrawals slowed violence in the Gaza war Monday, but an attack on an Israeli bus that killed one person in Jerusalem underscored the tensions still simmering in the region as reports indicated a possible renewal of a 72-hour ceasefire as soon as Tuesday.

Several ceasefires have broken down during the 3½-week war — including Friday when an internationally negotiated truce collapsed amid violence and mutual recrimination between Israel and Hamas.

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Amid Israeli airstrikes that resumed late in the day on Monday, two Egyptian diplomatic sources told Reuters that there were "very strong indicators" from Israel and the Palestinian factions that they will accept a 72-hour ceasefire in Gaza starting at 5 a.m. GMT.

"More delegations are due to arrive to Cairo soon to engage in the Egyptian initiative, which is mainly aimed at an immediate halt to the bloodshed through a comprehensive truce agreement," one Egyptian source told Reuters.

With Hamas rocket fire tapering off over the last 24 hours and Israel's ground operation in Gaza winding down, violence in a war that officials say has killed more than 1,880 Palestinians and over 60 Israelis appeared — for the moment — to be waning.

But the lull was broken by the Jerusalem assault, which saw a man ram the front end of a construction excavator into an Israeli bus. Police described the incident as a "terrorist attack," indicating Palestinian involvement.

Excavator driver attacks Jerusalem bus

The attack occurred on a main thoroughfare near Jerusalem's light-rail line. The area is located near the unofficial line between Jewish West Jerusalem and east Jerusalem, the section of the city captured by Israel in 1967 and which is home to most of the city's Arab population. Israeli media said the attacker came from an Arab area of the city.

Israel's Channel 10 TV showed cellphone video of what it said was the attack, with the yellow excavator slamming its large shovel into the bus. Police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said a police officer in the area opened fire and killed the attacker. A pedestrian also was killed, said Jerusalem district police chief Yossi Piranti.

In the past, Palestinian attackers have gone on deadly rampages with bulldozers in Jerusalem traffic.

"Because of the quick reaction of the police an even graver incident was avoided," Piranti said.

Shortly after the excavator attack, Israeli media reported that a gunman on a motorcycle shot and seriously wounded an Israeli soldier. Police searched for the shooter in east Jerusalem.

"We believe there is a great likelihood this was a terrorist attack," Piranti said.

Before the attacks, a seven-hour Israeli ceasefire in Gaza went into effect. And while Israel continued hitting at selected Palestinian targets, the level of the fighting was much lower than in previous days.

However, the Israeli military said the ceasefire would not apply to areas where troops were still operating and where they would respond to any attack. The southern strip town of Rafah, which saw heavy fighting Sunday, was excluded from the truce, the military said.

Israel said it declared the temporary ceasefire to allow humanitarian aid to enter Gaza, which has been ravaged by the nearly month-long war.

Late Monday, Israel announced a resumption of attacks on targets in Gaza. Palestinian health official Ashraf al-Kidra said an airstrike near a desalination plant in Rafah killed three people, including a 12-year-old boy and his five-year-old sister.

Egypt present truce demands to Israel

Egypt had presented Palestinian demands to Israel on Monday as part of efforts to mediate a ceasefire in Gaza which could pave the way for negotiations to end more than three weeks of fighting, an Egyptian source said.

Those demands included a ceasefire, the withdrawal of Israeli forces from Gaza, the lifting of a blockade, the release of prisoners and the start of a reconstruction process, delegation members have said.

Earlier, an Israeli strike hit a house at the Shati refugee camp in the northern Gaza Strip, killing three people and wounding at least 30, Gaza health official Ashraf al-Kidra said. The Israeli military said it targeted an "operative threat" and rocket fire in the strike "around 10 a.m."

A separate Israeli strike killed Daniel Mansour, a commander in the Islamic Jihad group — a close ally of Gaza's militant Palestinian Hamas rulers, the group said.

Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri said his group remained skeptical about the announced Israeli truce.

"We do not trust such a calm and call on our people to take caution," Zuhri said.

Meanwhile, the British Foreign Office said it was "urgently investigating" claims that a British aid worker had been killed in the Gaza town of Rafah. It declined to comment further.

UN school attack a 'moral outrage'

Israel launched the military operation in Gaza on July 8 in response to weeks of heavy rocket fire. It has since carried out more than 4,600 airstrikes across the crowded seaside area. On July 17, it sent in ground forces in what it said was a mission to destroy the tunnels used by Hamas to carry out attacks inside Israel.

Hamas has fired more than 3,200 rockets into Israel during the war, with some intercepted by Israel's Iron Dome defence system and many of the crude missiles landing in open areas away from cities.

Since the war began, Palestinian health officials say at least 1,888 Palestinians have been killed. Most of the Palestinian casualties have been civilians, while all but three of the 64 Israelis killed have been in the military. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has come under increasing international pressure to halt the fighting because of the heavy civilian death toll in Gaza.

On Sunday, an apparent Israeli strike killed 10 people at a UN school that had been converted into a shelter in the southern Gaza Strip town of Rafah.

The United States said it was "appalled" by the "disgraceful" shelling and State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki called on Israel to do "more to meet its own standards and avoid civilian casualties."

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called the attack on the school a "moral outrage and a criminal act" and demanded a quick investigation.

The Israeli military said it had targeted three wanted militants on a motorcycle in the vicinity and was "reviewing the consequences of this strike." Israel said that it attacked 63 sites on Sunday and that nearly 100 rockets and mortars were fired at Israel.

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