GAZA (Reuters) - Israel and the Islamist group Hamas, which controls the Gaza Strip, have agreed to a ceasefire after five days of cross-border violence, officials said on Monday.
One official who was involved in mediating talks between Israel and Palestinian factions in Gaza said the groups had “reached an understanding on a truce and that the truce has started.”
A Palestinian official said Hamas had agreed to ensure the recognition of the ceasefire by smaller militant groups which were responsible for most of the rockets fired at Israel in the latest surge in violence.
The Israeli security cabinet met earlier Monday and decided the military would cease its strikes in the Gaza Strip if militants there halted attacks on Israel, according to an Israeli official.
The fighting also sparked a diplomatic row between Israel and Egypt after five Egyptian security officers were killed as Israeli troops along the border pursued gunmen who had carried out a series of deadly attacks in Israel.
Like similar arrangements in the past, the truce is not a formal agreement, but consists of each side saying it would halt hostilities if the other side did the same.
Eight Israelis — six civilians and two soldiers — were killed Thursday when the gunmen crossed into southern Israel and opened fire on a number of vehicles on a quiet desert road. At least seven of the attackers were killed, Israel said.
A total of 15 Palestinians, including five civilians, and one Israeli were killed in the subsequent cross-border air strikes and rocket attacks.
Israel blamed the Popular Resistance Committees (PRC) in Gaza for the attack and killed two of its leaders and three of its militants in an air strike shortly afterwards.
But it said the gunmen had entered Israel from the Sinai desert and raised doubts as to whether Egypt was able to maintain control in the border area.
Egypt’s cabinet, facing growing pressure for a tough response to the killing of the five Egyptian security personnel, was due Monday to discuss the growing lawlessness along the border.
The PRC, whose members fired many of the rockets launched over the past few days, agreed to “temporarily halt firing rockets to preserve the interest of our people,” but said it remained dedicated to the goal of Israel’s destruction.
Israeli leaders, looking to lower tensions, have expressed regret over the Egyptian deaths and reiterated that Egypt is an important and strategic ally.
They have also said they want to avoid further escalations in violence with the Palestinians, which analysts said could hurt Israel ahead of a Palestinian statehood bid next month in the United Nations.
Editing by Tim Pearce