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Israel, Hamas Agree New Gaza Truce

Israel and the Hamas militant group have agreed to an unconditional 72-hour humanitarian cease-fire in the Gaza Strip.

In a joint statement issued late on July 31, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said the truce will begin at 0700 Prague time on August 1.

The statement said that during the cease-fire, “the forces on the ground will remain in place."

Israeli and Palestinian delegations were expected to travel "immediately" to Cairo for talks with the Egyptian government with the aim of reaching "a durable cease-fire."

The statement said the truce was critical to give civilians "urgently needed humanitarian relief,” time to bury the dead, take care of the injured, and restock food supplies.

Israeli and Hamas officials confirmed that the two sides agreed to the truce.

Several humanitarian cease-fires have been announced since the conflict in Gaza began more than three weeks ago, but each has been broken by renewed fighting.

Speaking to reporters in New Delhi, Kerry called the cease-fire a "lull of opportunity" and said it was imperative that the sides make their best efforts to find common ground.

Kerry said Israel would still be allowed to carry out "defensive" operations behind what it sees as its lines in Gaza to destroy tunnels.

The Jewish state has vowed to destroy tunnels through which Palestinian militants can infiltrate it for attacks.

Gaza officials say more than 1,450 Palestinians have been killed in the 24-day-old conflict, most of them civilians, since Israel began its offensive in Gaza.

On the Israeli side, 61 soldiers and three civilians have also died.

The UN says a quarter of Gaza's population has been displaced by the fighting.

Israel says its offensive is aimed at defending its population from attacks by Palestinian militants.

The announcement of the cease-fire came hours after the Israeli military said it was calling up an additional 16,000 reserve soldiers to pursue its campaign against the militants.

In Geneva, UN human rights chief Navi Pillay criticized Israel's "deliberate defiance" of international law during the Gaza conflict.

Pillay mentioned attacks on homes, schools, hospitals, and UN facilities which are sheltering 250,000 civilians in Gaza.

Israeli shells slammed into a UN-run school in the refugee camp in Jabalia on July 30, killing 16 people.

On July 31, the White House described the shelling as "totally unacceptable and totally indefensible."

Israel accuses Hamas of using UN facilities and other sites to store weapons and launch rocket attacks.

Based on reporting by AFP, AP, and Reuters
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