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Israel, Hamas Cease-Fire Agreed, Holding In Early Stages


Egypt's Foreign Minister Mohamed Kamel Amr (left to right), U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, and Egyptian President Muhammad Morsi meet at the presidential palace in Cairo on November 21.
A cease-fire between Israel and Hamas has begun as part of an internationally mediated effort to end a week of deadly violence in and around Gaza.

The agreement appeared to be holding through midday on November 22.

Egyptian Foreign Minister Mohamed Kamel Amr had announced the suspension agreement at a joint press conference with U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton one day earlier.

He said that Egypt's "extensive discussions since the new outbreak of hostilities in the Gaza Strip with all parties" had "managed to reach an agreement of a cease-fire and the return of calm and halt of the violence and the bloodshed that was witnessed recently."

Egypt has led international efforts to end the conflict, which has killed at least 148 Palestinians and five Israelis since it erupted eight days ago.

Clinton welcomed the cease-fire announcement. She echoed U.S. President Barack Obama in thanking Egyptian President Muhammad Morsi for his personal efforts to deescalate the situation in Gaza.

"This is a critical moment for the region," she said. "Egypt's new government is assuming the responsibility and leadership that has long made this country a cornerstone of regional stability and peace."

Beijing also welcomed the break in fighting.

"China welcomes the announcement of a cease-fire by the parties in Israel and Palestine," Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying told journalists. "China also expresses appreciation for the international community, especially Egypt and other regional countries, for their strong efforts. China hopes that both sides in Palestine and Israel will earnestly carry out their cease-fire agreement and will avoid future conflict."

As night fell in Gaza on November 21, Palestinians took to the streets to celebrate what they considered a victory against Israel and praise Hamas.

Earlier, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told Obama he was ready to give the cease-fire a chance but that "more forceful action" might be needed if it failed.

Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal said his forces would abide by the cease-fire, which he described as a "tactical defeat" for Israel.

Meshaal said the agreement required Israel to open crossings with Gaza, disputing what he described as Israeli assertions to the contrary.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon urged the two sides to stick to the terms of the agreement, a message later echoed by the UN Security Council.

The European Union also welcomed news of the cease-fire, with EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton singling out Egypt for its leading efforts.

Based on reporting by AFP and Reuters
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