Israel, Hamas take first steps toward Gaza cease-fire deal

Israel, Hamas take first steps toward Gaza cease-fire deal

(AP) Egyptian mediators have worked in recent days to broker a cease-fire agreement, but talks have been repeatedly interrupted by Palestinian rocket attacks and Israeli military reprisals. The violence has heightened tensions just over a week before Israeli national elections.

Israel has expanded its permitted fishing zone and easing some tight restrictions on movement through its two main crossings with the Palestinian enclave.

Egyptian mediators have worked in recent days to broker a cease-fire agreement, but talks have been repeatedly interrupted by Palestinian rocket attacks and Israeli military reprisals. The violence has heightened tensions just over a week before Israeli national elections.

In a sign that Egyptian efforts have made progress, the Gaza fishermen’s committee said Israel would be extending the permitted fishing zone along the Mediterranean coast to a maximum of 15 nautical miles (28 kilometers), up from the previous limit of nine nautical miles (17 kilometers). Fishing had been off-limits since Gaza militants launched a rocket toward Tel Aviv last week, touching off rounds of short but intense cross-border fighting between the bitter enemies.

Israeli and Hamas officials confirmed that the Erez and Kerem Shalom border crossings were re-opened, in a very restricted fashion, for the first time since violence flared up last Monday.

Earlier Sunday, Palestinian militants launched rockets into Israel during the night, and the military responded with tank fire.

Four Palestinians, including three teenagers, were killed by Israeli fire on Saturday as tens of thousands of people took part in mass rallies that marked the first anniversary of demonstrations along the Israel-Gaza perimeter fence.

Dozens of activists approached the fence during Saturday’s demonstration, hurling stones and explosives toward Israeli forces.

Israel says it is defending its border but has come under heavy international criticism for the large number of unarmed Palestinian demonstrators who have been shot over the past 12 months.

Nearly 200 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli fire, while one Israeli soldier was killed last summer by a Palestinian sniper in Gaza.
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