CAIRO — Israel and Hamas agreed to a cease-fire Wednesday, the eighth day of lethal fighting over the Gaza Strip, in a deal completed under strong U.S. and Egyptian diplomatic pressure that quieted an aerial battle of rockets and bombs and forestalled — for now — an escalation into an Israeli invasion.
The cease-fire, which took effect at 9 p.m. local time (11 a.m. PST), was formally announced by U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Foreign Minister Mohamed Amr of Egypt after intensive negotiations in Cairo. It was welcomed by all sides, but whether the cease-fire could hold was uncertain, and even in the minutes leading up to the effective start time, the antagonists were firing at one another.
“This is a critical moment for the region," Clinton, who rushed to the Middle East late Tuesday in an effort to halt the hostilities, told reporters in Cairo. She thanked Egypt’s president, Mohammed Morsi, who played a pivotal role in the negotiations, for “assuming the leadership that has long made this country a cornerstone of regional stability and peace."
Clinton also pledged to work “with our partners across the region to consolidate this progress, improve conditions for the people of Gaza, provide security for the people of Israel."
Amr said Egypt’s role in reaching the agreement reflected its “historical commitment to the Palestinian cause" and Egypt’s efforts to “bring together the gap between the Palestinian factions."
The negotiators reached an agreement after days of nearly nonstop Israeli aerial assaults on Gaza and the firing of hundreds of rockets into Israel from Hamas’ arsenal.