— CAIRO (AP) — Israel and the Hamas militant group reached a cease-fire agreement Wednesday to end the fiercest round of fighting in nearly four years, promising to halt attacks on each other and ease an Israeli blockade constricting the Gaza Strip.
Egypt's foreign minister, Mohammed Kamel Amr, said the deal was set to take effect at 9 p.m. local time. (2 p.m. EDT), capping days of intense efforts that drew the world's top diplomats into the fray. U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton stood next to Amr as he announced the breakthrough at a news conference in Cairo.
The agreement will "improve conditions for the people of Gaza and provide security for the people of Israel," Clinton said. In Israel, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's office said he agreed to the cease-fire after consulting with President Barack Obama.
Israel launched the fierce Israeli offensive in Gaza last week to stop months of intensifying rocket attacks. Even after the deal was announced, an air-raid siren signaled a rocket attack in southern Israel, while an airstrike could be heard in Gaza.
In the last-minute burst of fire, Palestinian militants fired five rockets into the southern Israeli city of Beersheba. One rocket hit a house inside the city, police said. No injuries were reported.
Israel launched well over 1,500 airstrikes and other attacks on targets in Gaza, while more than 1,000 rockets pounded Israel since the fighting began on Nov. 14. In all, more than 140 Palestinians, including dozens of civilians, were killed, while five Israelis died in the fighting.
According to a copy of the agreement obtained by The Associated Press, Israel and Hamas agreed to an immediate halt in the violence. Israel will end its policy of assassinating top Hamas officials, while Hamas promised to halt all rocket fire by the many militant groups operating in the Gaza Strip.