Israel and Hamas agree to Gaza cease-fire

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The deal marked a key victory for Egypt’s new Islamist government, which is caught in a balancing act between its allegiance to Hamas and its need to maintain good relations with Israel and the U.S. Hamas is an offshoot of Egypt’s ruling Muslim Brotherhood.

The agreement came after Clinton shuttled across the region to help broker an end to the violence. She ended her meetings in Cairo, where Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi mediated between Israel and Hamas. U.N. chief Ban Ki-moon also flew across the region as part of the diplomatic cease-fire push.

Hours before the the deal was announced, a bomb exploded on a bus in Tel Aviv near Israel’s military headquarters that wounded 27 people and led to fears of a breakdown in the shuttle diplomacy Clinton and U.N. chief Ban Ki-moon were conducting in the region.

The blast, which left the bus charred and its windows blown out, was the first bombing in Tel Aviv since 2006. It appeared aimed at sparking Israeli fears of a return to the violence of the Palestinian uprising last decade, which killed more than 1,000 Israelis in bombings and shooting attacks and left more than 5,000 Palestinians dead as well.

The blast was from a device placed inside the bus by a man who then got off, said Yitzhak Aharonovich, Israel’s minister of internal security,

While Hamas did not take responsibility for the attack, it praised the bombing.

“We consider it a natural response to the occupation crimes and the ongoing massacres against civilians in the Gaza Strip,” Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum told The Associated Press.

Bassem Ezbidi, a West Bank political analyst, said it was unlikely Hamas itself was behind the attack, since it would not want to risk losing any of the international support it gained in recent days.

“If Hamas wants to target civilians it would do so by firing rockets, but not by buses because such attacks left a negative record in the minds of people. Hamas doesn’t need this now,” he said.

The bombing came as 10,000 Palestinians sought shelter in 12 U.N.-run schools, after Israel dropped leaflets urging residents to vacate their homes in some areas of Gaza to avoid being hit by airstrikes, said Adnan Abu Hassna, the U.N. Relief and Works Agency spokesman.

The influx of displaced people came a day after the head of UNRWA, Filippo Grandi, warned that the agency urgently needed $12 million to continue distributing food to the neediest Gazans. The agency runs schools, shelters and food programs for hundreds of thousands of Palestinian refugees and their descendants in Gaza.

Huge clouds of black smoke rose above the Gaza City skyline Wednesday as airstrikes pounded a sports stadium, used as a launch site for rocket attacks on Israel in the past, and a high-rise office building housing Hamas-affiliated media offices, but also Agence France-Presse.

AFP reporters said they evacuated their fourth-floor office Tuesday, after an initial strike targeted sixth-floor offices linked to Hamas and other smaller factions.

A 4-year-old boy was killed in the second attack on the high-rise Wednesday, Gaza health official Ashraf al-Kidra said. The boy, Abdel-Rahman Naim, was in his family apartment in the building when he was struck by shrapnel and died on the way to Gaza’s Shifa Hospital, al-Kidra said.

Washington blames Hamas rocket fire for the outbreak of violence and has backed Israel’s right to defend itself, but has cautioned that an Israeli ground invasion could send casualties soaring.

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