GAZA CITY, Palestinian Territories, (AFP) — Israel and militants in Gaza agreed to cease hostilities Tuesday after Egypt brokered a “mutual truce” following four days of bloodletting which left 25 Gazans dead.
Under the agreement, which came into force at 1:00am (2300 GMT on Monday), both Israel and militants from Islamic Jihad — responsible for the lion’s share of rockets targeting southern Israel — agreed to hold their fire, an Egyptian intelligence official told AFP.
Israeli officials and Islamic Jihad both confirmed that a deal was in place.
“There is an understanding, and we are following what’s going on in the field,” Home Front Defence Minister Matan Vilnai told Israeli public radio, saying the two sides had made “arrangements” but there was no written agreement.
“Apparently things are calming down and this round of confrontations appears to be behind us.”
In Gaza, an Islamic Jihad spokesman said the radical group was willing to respect the deal if Israel would end its targeted killings of militants.
“We accept a ceasefire if Israel agrees to apply it by ending its aggressions and assassinations,” Daud Shihab told AFP.
But both sides were quick to warn that the agreement would be short lived if the other side stepped out of line.
“We will not accept Israel returning to aggression and assassinations against our people, and if it does we will respond harshly,” Shihab warned.
Israel’s top military officer held the same position.
“If the terrorists maintain the calm, we will do the same; if they fire, we will hit him. Everything depends on them,” Chief of Staff Lieutenant General Benny Gantz told the radio.
News of the agreement emerged early on Tuesday after Egypt brokered what the Egyptian intelligence official said was a “comprehensive and mutual” truce.
“An agreement on ending the current operations between the two sides, including a halt to assassinations, entered into force at 1:00 am,” he told AFP, saying the deal was reached after the Egyptians held “intensive contacts” with both sides.
But Vilnai denied Israel had agree to halt the assassinations.
“Anyone who is involved in terrorism against Israel needs to know that they are in our sights,” he warned.
Egypt has been involved in brokering numerous truce agreements between Israel and Gaza militant groups, but a Hamas MP on Monday accused Cairo of using Gaza’s ongoing fuel crisis to put pressure on the Islamist movement to enforce a ceasefire on the ground.
“Egyptian intelligence officials offered to provide the government with the fuel needed to operate the power plant, to resume transportation and the operation of factories, in exchange for a truce on the ground in Gaza,” Yunes al-Astal said in a statement sent to AFP.
Gaza has just one power plant, which shut down three times in the past two months due to fuel shortages, although Egypt has agreed to provide enough fuel to allow it to operate.
There was no immediate comment on the truce agreement from Gaza’s Hamas rulers who have been seeking Cairo’s help to restore calm, and whose armed wing has not been firing rockets at Israel.
Since 1:00am, the number of rockets being fired at Israel dropped dramatically, with police reporting only two hitting the south, without causing any injuries or damage.
And the skies over Gaza were calm.
The ceasefire came into force after four days of violence that began on Friday with Israel’s assassination of the head of the Popular Resistance Committees, a militant group.
The strike prompted militants to fire hundreds of rockets and mortar rounds into southern Israel, wounding five people and prompting authorities to shut down schools within firing range of Gaza.
The Israeli military carried out dozens of air strikes during the flare-up, saying it was targeting militants and weapons facilities.
Palestinian medics put the total death toll late on Monday at 25, with more than 80 injured.
Of those killed, 19 were militants — 14 from Islamic Jihad, and five from the Popular Resistance Committees — and six were civilians, among them two minors.