Palestinian ceasefire agreed
Tel Aviv - Palestinian militant groups said on Monday they had reached informal and indirect oral understandings with Israel on halting rocket strikes and air raids, leading to hopes that the latest upsurge in violence between the sides was coming to an end.
Israel said it had not signed any agreement with Hamas, but would monitor events and would respond to any rocket fire. By early afternoon, there had been no reports of rockets hitting Israel for six hours, and no Israeli air raids for 12 hours.
The understandings had been reached via Egyptian mediation, said Ghazi Hamad, deputy foreign minister of the Hamas administration in the Strip.
The Popular Resistance Committees, a radical group in the Strip which often acts independently of the other militant organisations, and who Israel blames for setting off the chain of events which started the latest violence, said it too was calling a "temporary" halt to its rocket fire.
Since the escalation began Thursday, militants launched around 140 rockets and mortars at Israel, which responded with 29 airstrikes, an Israeli military spokesperson in Tel Aviv said.
Reports of an imminent halt to the escalation first surfaced Sunday night. Ahmed Yousef, a senior Hamas leader, said the militia factions had agreed, via Egyptian mediation, to halt their fire, and were waiting for "positive answers" from Israel.
Mark Regev, a spokesperson for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, would not comment on Yousef's remarks, but said only that Israel's goal in the current round was two-fold - to prevent the launching of missiles at Israeli cities, and to target those responsible for the rocket attacks.
Netanyahu and ministers held late night consultations and decided that Israel would not respond to the continuing rocket fire from the Strip with a wide-scale operation in the area.
A "senior diplomatic source" accused Hamas of trying to draw Israel into fighting in the Strip, so as to weaken its international support ahead of a Palestinian request to the United Nations in September to ratify its statehood, Israel Army Radio reported.
Calls for a ceasefire notwithstanding, Hamas was really interested in escalation, the source said, "so Israel must do all it can to achieve calm".
Israel's last large-scale operation in the Strip, also in response to concerted rocket fire, saw the country become increasingly diplomatically isolated amid international condemnation.
The Israeli military said about 16 rockets and mortars had been fired at Israel from the time the supposed truce was to come into effect, at 19:00 GMT on Sunday, until Monday morning.
Israel had also carried out one air raid, shortly after midnight, targeting a rocket launching squad, a military spokesman in Tel Aviv said.
There were no immediate reports of fatalities on either side on the fifth day of fighting.
The latest escalation began Thursday when Palestinian gunmen shot at Israeli vehicles near the border with Egypt, killing eight people and wounding 31.
Another Israeli civilian was killed on Saturday night in a rocket attack on Beersheba.
Israel said the attackers had come from the Gaza Strip, and launched a series of air strikes in retaliation. At least one leader of the Popular Resistance Committees in Gaza was killed.
Palestinian militants responded by firing missiles and mortars at Israel, which retaliated with more airstrikes. At least 15 people were reported killed.