Israel on Tuesday accepted an Egyptian proposal to end a week of the deadliest violence in the Gaza Strip for years, despite a Hamas decision to reject the US-backed truce.
The decision by Israel’s security cabinet was announced just minutes after the ceasefire was due to start at 0600 GMT.
But the resulting calm was short-lived; with the Israeli army confirming three rockets from Gaza hit southern Israel, although there were no immediate reports of a military response.
The truce proposal, laid out by Cairo late on Monday, won support from Washington as the death toll in Gaza soared to 192 following a week of intensive bombardment by the Israeli air force.
But the Islamist Hamas movement, whose militants have fired more than 1,000 rockets, ruled out any end to the fighting without a fully fledged agreement.
Cairo’s initiative was made after Washington warned Israel against a ground offensive, but stopped short of criticising Israel over the Palestinian civilian toll, and called on Hamas to halt rocket attacks.
“We are encouraged that Egypt has made a proposal to accomplish this goal that we hope can restore the calm that we are seeking,” said US President Barack Obama, describing the deaths of Palestinian civilians as a “tragedy” but expressing support for Israel’s right to defend itself.
Israel launched Operation Protective Edge before dawn on July 8, hitting Gaza with an intensive aerial bombing campaign aimed at stamping out cross-border rocket fire. Militants answered with hundreds of rockets, dozens of which have targeted central and even northern Israel.
The deadly conflict, which has claimed the most victims since Israel’s blistering 22-day offensive in 2008-2009, has also seen rockets from Syria and Lebanon hitting the Israeli north, raising fears of the conflict spreading.
Overnight, three rockets fired from Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula hit Israel’s Red Sea resort of Eilat, two of them inside the city, causing damage, and one outside in an open area, the military said.
– Hamas rejection –
Details of Egypt’s proposal came late on Monday. “0600 GMT has been set for the beginning of the implementation of truce arrangements between the two sides,” a statement said, with Cairo saying it would be willing to host talks between high-level Israeli and Palestinian delegations after the ceasefire went into effect.
Israel’s security cabinet met early Tuesday, and ministers voted six to two in favour of accepting the truce.