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Kerry Brokers 72-hour Truce            08/01 06:13

   Hours past midnight Thursday, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry was still 
working the phones, trying to come up with a cease-fire plan to stop the 
bloodshed in the Gaza Strip. He'd been pushing for a deal all day -- in fact, 
for more than a week -- and nailing down a final agreement was proving elusive. 
Finally, less than an hour after all sides signed off on the precise and 
technical wording for a 72-hour truce, Kerry issued a statement and called a 
3:30 a.m. Friday press conference to seal the deal before any party could back 
out.

   NEW DELHI (AP) -- Hours past midnight Thursday, U.S. Secretary of State John 
Kerry was still working the phones, trying to come up with a cease-fire plan to 
stop the bloodshed in the Gaza Strip. He'd been pushing for a deal all day --- 
in fact, for more than a week --- and nailing down a final agreement was 
proving elusive.

   Finally, less than an hour after all sides signed off on the precise and 
technical wording for a 72-hour truce, Kerry issued a statement and called a 
3:30 a.m. Friday press conference to seal the deal before any party could back 
out.

   It was the kind of announcement that ricocheted around the world: announced 
simultaneously at U.N. headquarters in New York and in New Delhi, where Kerry 
was meeting with India officials; drawing in regional players from Turkey to 
Egypt to Qatar; and finally converging on the tiny strip of land on the 
Mediterranean Sea where Israel and the Palestinian militant group Hamas have 
fought an all-out war in the last three weeks.

   More than 1,400 Palestinians and nearly 60 Israelis have been killed since 
the fighting began July 8.

   Aides said Kerry made more than 100 calls over the last 10 days, including 
several dozen on Thursday alone, to broker the agreement that he failed to 
reach a week ago in Cairo to much ridicule and indignation from Israelis who 
accused him of going soft on Hamas. He announced the deal in the middle of the 
night Friday with an air of weariness, and solemnity, rather than declaring 
victory.

   "This is not a time for congratulations and joy, or anything except a 
serious determination, a focus, by everybody to try to figure out the road 
ahead," Kerry told a half-dozen reporters who were hastily summoned to his 
hotel suite only 45 minutes after the deal was struck. "This is a respite. It's 
a moment of opportunity, not an end; it's not a solution. It's the opportunity 
to find the solution."

   U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric said the cease-fire announcement was the 
result of Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon's trip recent trip to the region as 
well as 48 hours of "extremely active diplomacy at all levels" --- including 
Robert Serry, the U.N. special coordinator for the Middle East peace process.

   Kerry and Serry shepherded a cease-fire that began at 8 a.m. local time 
Friday in Gaza and Israel. But the agreement began to unravel after just two 
hours with a heavy exchange of fire reported in the southern Gaza town of Rafah 
and Israel and Hamas blaming each other for violating the truce.

   Negotiations over the underlying disputes between Israel and Hamas --- 
including tunnels into Israel and easing border restrictions for Palestinians 
--- will begin immediately in Cairo, potentially as early as Friday, or as soon 
as delegations can get there.

   Both Israel and Hamas have agreed to end all aggressive operations and 
conduct only defensive missions to protect their people. For Israel, that means 
troops on the ground in Gaza can continue to destroy the tunnels --- but only 
those that are behind their defensive lines and lead into Israel.

   At the same time, Palestinians in Gaza will be able to receive food, 
medicine and humanitarian assistance, bury their dead, treat the wounded and 
travel to their homes. The time also will be used to make repairs to water and 
energy systems.

   Israeli and Palestinian delegations were expected to travel immediately to 
Cairo for talks moderated by the Egyptian government. It's not clear which 
other nations will be attending the talks, and aides to Kerry said Egypt will 
ultimately decide who will participate.

   It is, however, expected that members of Hamas will be part of the 
Palestinian delegation named by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas --- 
although Egypt will have to serve as a go-between for the militants and Israel. 
Both the U.S. and Israel consider Hamas a terrorist organization and will not 
directly deal with the militant group.

   Over the last several weeks, diplomats from Qatar and Turkey have served as 
intermediators between the U.S. and Hamas in a role that State Department 
officials described as key in securing an agreement. Qatar, Turkey and Hamas 
all have ties to the Muslim Brotherhood, an Islamist political organization 
that has been outlawed in Egypt following last year's ouster in Cairo of former 
President Mohammed Morsi and his Brotherhood-led government.

   The U.S. will be represented in Cairo by Frank Lowenstein, the State 
Department's top envoy to the Mideast.

   After falling short of winning a truce last week, Kerry left Cairo 
disappointed and, officials have said, angry --- but quietly soldiered on.

   His efforts peaked during a 36-hour visit to New Delhi, where he was seeking 
to foster warmer diplomatic relations between the U.S. and India after years of 
strain. At least at one point during the day, he interrupted meetings with 
Indian Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj to take calls about the potential 
cease-fire.

   "The minister was extremely generous in permitting me to make a number of 
must-do phone calls during our session, and I'm very grateful to her for her 
indulgence," Kerry told reporters earlier in the day, at the start of a press 
conference with Swaraj.

   Every time it looked like an agreement was near, State Department officials 
said one of the sides would tweak the language --- setting the negotiations 
back into motion.

   It's hoped that the 72 hours will be long enough to get the talks started, 
but not long enough to draw a rejection from any side that might have opposed a 
longer-term truce proposal. Even so, there's no guarantee that the truce will 
hold once the 72 hours are up, on Monday morning in the Mideast.

   The U.S. also has proposed a rolling set of short-term cease-fire agreements 
to keep the negotiations going, but it's not clear that the parties will agree 
to that.

   "We hope that this moment of opportunity will be grabbed by the parties, but 
no one can force them to do that, obviously," Kerry said in New Delhi, in the 
darkest part of the night.

   "So we come at it with sober reflection about the lives lost and the 
violence suffered," Kerry said.

   "There's been too much of it for most people's judgment here, and our hope 
is that reason could possibly prevail to find the road forward," he said.


(KA)


 
 
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