Israel and Islamic Jihad agree to Gaza truce
JERUSALEM - Agence France-Presse
Palestinians inspect the rubble of a destroyed building following an Israeli air strike in Jabaliya, Monday, March 12, 2012. AP PhotoIsrael 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, who have been responsible for the lion's share of the rockets lobbed at 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, although they were quick to warn that the agreement would be short lived if the other side stepped out of line. "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.
"Apparently things are calming down and this round of confrontations appears to be behind us."
And 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.
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 the Israel minister denied there was any agreement to halt the military's campaign of assassinations.
"Anyone who is involved in terrorism against Israel needs to know that they are in our sights," he warned.
There was no immediate comment 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 the agreement came into force, the number of rockets being fired at Israel dropped dramatically, with police reporting only two hitting the southern areas which did not cause any injuries or damage. And the skies over Gaza were calm.
The announcement came 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.
The latest round of violence began on Friday after Israel killed Zuhair al-Qaisi, head of the Popular Resistance Committees, prompting militant groups to begin lobbing rockets over the border.
The army said Qaisi had planned a deadly attack in August 2011 and accused him of planning a repeat attack "in the coming days." The violence prompted international concern, with US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on Monday condemning the "rocket fire from Gaza by terrorists into southern Israel."
"We call on those responsible to take immediate action to stop these attacks. And we call on both sides, all sides, to make every effort to restore calm," she told the UN Security Council.
And the Middle East Quartet, which groups US, UN, EU and Russian diplomats, also expressed "serious concern for the recent escalation."