Shuhaib Salem/Reuters

Gazans celebrate as officials confirm open-ended cease-fire

Egyptian-mediated truce follows negotiations in Cairo; deal expected to ease Gaza blockade

Palestinians celebrated and waved flags in the streets of Gaza in large numbers Tuesday after an open-ended truce between Israel and Palestinian groups was confirmed by officials on all sides.

The deal comes after seven weeks of fighting in Gaza that killed more than 2,200 Palestinians and 69 Israelis. Although details of the agreement remain unclear, they are widely reported to include an easing of the seven-year Israeli-Egyptian economic blockade of Gaza — a key demand from the Palestinian side. 

Azzam al-Ahmad, the head of the Palestinian delegation taking part in indirect talks being held in Cairo, told Al Jazeera on Tuesday that the truce, which goes into effect at midnight local time (5 p.m. Eastern time), was reached after 48 hours of extensive negotiations with officials in Doha, Cairo, Gaza and Ramallah. Reports indicate its provisions could include Israel’s easing its blockade of Gaza to allow relief supplies and construction materials. It also appears to include expansion of the waters in which Gazan boats may trawl and an easing of Gazans' freedom to travel and conduct trade.

Hamas' exiled deputy leader, Moussa Abu Marzouk, said on social media that the deal was a "victory for the resistance."

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An Israeli official told The Associated Press that Israel accepted the Egyptian truce proposal, with the most immediate effects being to loosen border restrictions and increase humanitarian aid to the territory.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said in a news conference confirming the deal Tuesday that the first priority is to provide Gaza with "everything needed at this moment, and later on we'll have talks about other demands on the table."

He expressed tempered optimism over the deal, alluding to previous truces between Israel and Gaza that have lasted just two or three years.

"What's next. What is next? The Gaza Strip in particular has witnessed three wars — 2008 through '09, 2012 and 2014. Are we expecting another war after one year or two?" Abbas said. "Going into a vague negotiation is something that can't go on forever."

He said Palestinians' effort to form a national unity government, with Fatah and Hamas sharing power, would be restarted. The parties signed a reconciliation deal shortly before Israel began a crackdown on Hamas members in the West Bank and launched Operation Protective Edge last month. Both parties will "boost the national reconciliation and pave the way for the national reconciliation government during this period," Abbas said.

The truce is the latest in a series of cease-fire attempts since Israel launched an offensive against the occupied Gaza Strip on July 8. Cairo's initiative, Palestinian officials said, called for an indefinite halt to hostilities, the immediate opening of Gaza's blockaded crossings with Israel and Egypt and a widening of the enclave's fishing zone in the Mediterranean. The zone will reportedly be extended in stages, from three to 12 nautical miles. 

A security buffer zone imposed by Israel inside the border of the Gaza Strip will be reduced from 700 to 300 meters, initial reports suggested. If the deal is confirmed, a massive humanitarian and reconstruction effort will begin immediately. A border crossing from Israel that previously allowed 300 trucks a day into the besieged territory will be expanded to provide for 600 vehicles overnight Tuesday, according to reports.

Under a second stage that will begin next month, Israel and the Palestinians will discuss the construction of a Gaza seaport and Israel's release of Hamas prisoners in the occupied West Bank, the officials said.

However, Daniel Levy, director of the Middle East North Africa program at the European Council on Foreign Relations, said the likelihood of further negotiations leading to sea and air ports was a dream.

"Indirect talks with the Egyptians aren’t going to lead anywhere," said Levy, a former Israeli policy advisor.

“Neither side is going to achieve in indirect negotiations what it couldn’t achieve in military confrontation," he added.

"The only way things could change is if a third party decided it was going to use more leverage and there’s been no indication of that."

Both Israel and Egypt view Hamas as a security threat and are demanding guarantees that weapons will not enter the Gaza Strip.

Despite celebrations, Yousef Munayyer, executive director of The Palestine Center, stressed that the imbalance of power between the Israeli state and stateless Palestinians led to the failure of previous agreements. 

"Previous cease-fires have failed so spectacularly in the past, because if Hamas or other Palestinians violate the cease-fire, Israel is independently capable of holding them accountable through the use of force. Whereas, if the Israelis violate the cease-fire, Palestinians do not have that capacity," Munayyer said.

"The only thing that [Palestinians] have in attempt to do that is projectile fire which can then lead to further Israeli responses and then lead to an escalation and so on and that’s how the cease-fire crumbles again."

The United States has welcomed the cease-fire agreement. "We call on all parties to fully and completely comply with its terms, and hope very much that the cease-fire will prove to be durable and sustainable," State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki told reporters at a daily briefing.

Thousands of homes in the Gaza Strip have been destroyed or damaged in the conflict. The Palestinian Center for Human Rights said 540,000 people have been displaced in the territory.

Ehab Zahriyeh contributed to this report. Al Jazeera and wire services

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