Update as of 1:58 a.m. EDT: An unconditional 72-hour cease-fire in Gaza between Israel and Hamas has begun, and talks for a longer-lasting truce are set to begin in Cairo, according to media reports Friday, even as Israel reiterated its intention to destroy Hamas-built tunnels in the region.
More than 1,450 Palestinians, mostly civilians, have died since the conflict began 24 days ago, while 61 Israeli soldiers, two civilians and a Thai national have also been killed.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry announced Thursday that all involved parties in Israel and Gaza would observe a 72-hour cease-fire beginning at 8 a.m. local time Friday.
In a joint-statement, the United Nations and U.S. said that both sides agreed to an “unconditional cease-fire” so that discussions about a permanent truce could resume. As long as the both parties respect the pause in fighting, delegations from both Gaza and Israel are set to go to Cairo to discuss the cease-fire proposal. During the three days, all forces will remain where they are.
“This ceasefire is critical to giving innocent civilians a much-needed reprieve from violence,” the statement said. “During this period, civilians in Gaza will receive urgently needed humanitarian relief, and the opportunity 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.”
Hamas spokesperson told Reuters that all resistance factions in Gaza would abide by the cease-fire. "Acknowledging a call by the United Nations and in consideration of the situation of our people, resistance factions agreed to a 72-hour humanitarian and mutual calm that begins at 8 a.m Friday as long as the other side abides by it," Sami Abu Zuhri said.
However, it looks like Gaza is in for a long night before the morning pause.
A senior Israeli official told Haaretz that come Friday morning, 90 percent of known Hamas tunnels would be destroyed. In the past day, the IDF said they hit 110 “terror sites” in Gaza.
Earlier on Thursday, Kerry told reporters from New Delhi that there was “no promise” of a cease-fire between the two belligerent parties.
As of midnight local time, 56 IDF soldiers had died over the course of the operation and Palestinian news agency Ma’an reported the Palestinian death toll at 1,437, surpassing that of Israel’s last ground invasion in 2009. The death toll is expected to rise as residents of Gaza use the cease-fire time to pull left-behind bodies out of the rubble.