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Egypt: Israel and Hamas agree to ceasefire

Egypt has announced a ceasefire between Hamas and Israel after eight days of fighting. Israel has agreed to the move. The international community has welcomed the truce but stressed the need for both sides to honor it.

Egyptian Foreign Minister Mohamed Kamel Amr made the announcement Wednesday evening in Cairo as he stood next to US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. The ceasefire took effect at 1900 GMT.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu confirmed the deal in Jerusalem, agreeing to "give it a chance."

"A short while ago Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu spoke with [US] President Barack Obama and agreed to his recommendation to give a chance to an Egyptian proposal for a ceasefire and thereby give an opportunity for the stabilisation of the situation and a calming of it," a statement from Netanyahu's office said.

"There is no substitute for a just and lasting peace," said Clinton at the Cairo press conference. "The US and Egypt will work together to support the next step."

Clinton added that the US would work with other countries in the region to "provide security for Israel and improve conditions for people in Gaza."

According to the agreement, Israel would halt all military activity against the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip and Palestinian militants would halt rocket attacks into Israel. After 24 hours of quiet, Gaza's border crossings with Israel would open to allow the freer movement of goods and people.

Response awaited from Hamas leader

Hamas' leader, Khaled Meshaal, at a press conference in a Cairo hotel, said: "If Israel complies, we are compliant. If it does not comply, our hands are on the trigger."

He thanked ceasefire mediator Egypt and said that Iran had had a role in arming his movement Hamas during the conflict.

Israel had "failed in all its goals," Meshaal said.

Gazans chanted, blew car horns and released fireworks while militants fired gunshots into the air as news of the ceasefire agreement emerged. Israeli drones could still be heard buzzing overhead.

The world responds

The United Nations responded to the news of a truce by calling on both Israel and Hamas to "act seriously" to uphold the ceasefire. The organization also released a statement to "strongly commend" Egypt’s Morsi for his role in making the ceasefire a reality.

U.S. President Barack Obama praised Netanyahu and reaffirmed his commitment to Israel's security.

"The president expressed his appreciation for the prime minister's efforts to work with the new Egyptian government to achieve a sustainable ceasefire and a more durable solution to this problem," a White House statement said.

"The president said that the United States would use the opportunity offered by a ceasefire to intensify efforts to help Israel address its security needs, especially the issue of the smuggling of weapons and explosives into Gaza," it added.

President Obama also said he would seek more money for the Iron Dome defense system that has protected Israel from rocket attacks, according to the White House.

Meanwhile, European Union leaders, Jose Manuel Barroso and Herman Van Rompuy, responded positively to the ceasefire, but emphasized that both sides needed to "ensure its implementation and to prevent the restart of violence."

Bus bombing earlier

Earlier on Wednesday, at least 15 people were injured in a Tel Aviv bus bombing. There was no claim of responsibility. Israel later launched more air strikes on Gaza. A health ministry spokesman in Gaza said at least six people were killed, including a toddler.

The death toll since Wednesday last week, when Israel killed a Hamas military chief in Gaza City during an airstrike, stands at more than 150 Palestinians and five Israelis killed.

dr/sej (AP, dpa, Reuters, AFP)