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Israel, Hamas officials say extended cease-fire reached

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    Aug. 26, 2014: Smoke and dust rise after an Israeli strike hits in Gaza City, northern Gaza Strip. The latest strikes came as Egypt urged Israel and Hamas to resume indirect talks on a permanent cease-fire, based on an Egyptian proposal for a new border deal for blockaded Gaza. (AP)

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    August 26, 2014: A man looks at a home hit by a rocket fired from the northern Gaza Strip Tuesday morning in the costal city of Ashkelon, Israel. (AP Photo/Tsafrir Abayov)

Israeli and Hamas officials say an extended cease-fire has been reached between the sides, halting the seven-week Gaza war which has killed more than 2,000 people.

An Israeli official confirmed the cease-fire to Fox News. A Hamas spokesman also confirmed the deal to Fox News and an Israeli official told The Associated Press that Israel "responded positively" to Egypt's call for an open-ended cease-fire.

Egyptian state media announced that the cease-fire between Israel and Hamas is taking effect Tuesday at 7 p.m. local time, without elaborating.

An Israeli official told The Associated Press that Israel would ease its blockade of Gaza to allow humanitarian and construction materials to enter the war-battered territory.

The official said indirect talks on more substantial issues would begin in Cairo within a month. Issues are expected to include Hamas' demand for an end to the blockade and Israel's calls for Hamas to disarm.

Hamas sent text messages to its supporters, urging them to take to the streets in celebration.

Israel and Egypt imposed the blockade in 2007, after Hamas seized Gaza by force in 2007. Under the restrictions, virtually all of Gaza's 1.8 million people cannot trade or travel. Only a few thousand are able to leave the coastal territory every month.

In Israel, a last-minute burst of mortar shells fired from Gaza killed an Israeli and wounded seven others, the Israel Defense Forces said.

Those attacks came after Israel bombed two Gaza City high-rises with dozens of homes and shops Tuesday, collapsing one building and severely damaging another.

In the past, the military has hit targets in high-rises in pinpoint strikes, but left the buildings standing. However, since Saturday, it has toppled or destroyed five towers and shopping complexes in an apparent new tactic aimed at increasing pressure on Hamas.

The objects of the latest strikes contain apartments inhabited almost exclusively by middle-class Gazans, who up until now have been largely spared the considerable dislocation that has affected tens of thousands of other residents in densely populated neighborhoods of the coastal strip, like Shijaiyah.

That has raised the possibility that the Israeli military is trying to use better-off Gazans, like professionals and Palestinian Authority employees, to put pressure on Hamas to end the fighting on Israel's terms.

Tuesday's strikes leveled the 15-story Basha Tower, with apartments and offices, and severely damaged the Italian Complex, built in the 1990s by an Italian businessman, with dozens of shops and offices.

Both buildings were evacuated after receiving warnings of impending strikes. Gaza health official Ashraf al-Kidra said 25 people were wounded in the attack on the Italian Complex.

One resident of the Italian Complex, 38-year-old engineer Nael Mousa, said that he, his four children and 70-year-old mother had managed to flee the building late Monday night after a guard had alerted them of an impending strike, and that he was in his car some 300 yards away when it was bombed by an Israeli F-16 fighter jet.

Within two hours, he said, it had been completely leveled by at least five additional bombs.

"I have become homeless, my children's fear will never be soothed, and something new has now been added to our feelings toward Israel and all the world, which has been looking on without doing anything," he said.

The Israeli military said it targeted sites linked to militants Tuesday, but made no specific reference to the two buildings. Israel alleges Hamas often operates from civilian locations. The military has not said why it has begun collapsing large buildings, rather than carrying out pinpointed strikes against suspected militant targets located there.

In an email message to The Associated Press, military spokesman Lt. Col. Peter Lerner said the strikes were "a direct result to Hamas' decision to situate their terrorist infrastructure within the civilian sphere including schools, hospitals and high-rise buildings."

He said Israel will not "enable Hamas to continue to kill Israelis, target our towns and cities and expect to operate without consequence to their facilities, militant operatives and the leadership of their heinous attacks against Israel."

Political scientist Mkhaimar Abu Sada from Gaza's Al Azhar University said he believed the Israeli tactic was a deliberate attempt to pressure Hamas by targeting middle class structures in neighborhoods like Rimal and Tel al-Hawa, which have so far been spared the worst of the fighting.

He said the tactic will end up creating even greater antipathy toward Israel, but might also result in some tough questions being asked about Hamas' conduct of the war.

"Some people will now be wondering why Hamas did not accept a cease-fire proposal during the first week of the fighting, when the damage here was still relatively small," he said.

Retired Israeli air force brigadier general Shlomo Brom, now a fellow at the Institute for National Security Studies in Tel Aviv, said he was doubtful that the high-rise structures had been targeted solely because of their middle-class makeups.

"I have no doubt that these buildings were hit primarily because they contained offices or other facilities that belonged to Hamas," he said.

Also on Tuesday, two people were killed in an airstrike on a house in Gaza City, police said, and the Red Crescent reported that two others died and three were wounded when Israeli tanks opened fire on Shijaiyah, east of Gaza City.

Israel's military said it carried out 15 airstrikes in Gaza on Tuesday.

It said eight rockets were launched from the coastal strip at Israeli territory, including one that caused extensive damage to a home in the southern city of Ashkelon and lightly injured more than a dozen people there.

Gaza's war has so far killed at least 2,133 Palestinians and wounded more than 11,000, according to Palestinian health officials and the United Nations. The U.N. estimates more than 17,000 homes have been destroyed, leaving 100,000 people homeless.

On the Israeli side, 68 people have been killed, all but four of them soldiers.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.