GAZA (Reuters) - An Egyptian-brokered ceasefire between Israel and Hamas will begin on Thursday, a Palestinian official said, after Israeli air strikes killed six militants in the Gaza Strip.
The official, who is familiar with the truce negotiations, said on Tuesday the two sides agreed to a six-month deal. He voiced confidence the latest violence would not hold up the start of the agreement to end constant bloodshed.
“Implementation of the truce will begin at 6 a.m. (4 a.m. British time) on Thursday,” said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorised to announce an accord.
A ceasefire would aim to end rocket and mortar bomb attacks on Israel from the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip and Israeli raids in the territory. Israel has said it would continue preparations for broad military action should a truce fall apart.
A senior Egyptian official was quoted by Egypt’s Middle East News Agency as confirming the Palestinian official’s information. A Hamas source had said announcement of a deal would be made by Egypt.
Israel stopped short of confirming the timing of what it said would be an informal arrangement to halt fighting.
“What is important is not words but actions,” said Mark Regev, a spokesman for Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert.
He repeated Israel’s demands for an end to attacks on Israeli civilians, a halt to arms smuggling into the Gaza Strip and progress toward the release of Gilad Shalit, an Israeli soldier seized by Gaza militants two years ago.
Israeli and Palestinian officials cautioned earlier on Tuesday that under any truce accord, the blockade Israel imposed on the Gaza Strip after Hamas seized the territory a year ago would be eased only gradually and partially.
Israel’s Defence Ministry said one of its senior officials, Amos Gilad, would fly to Cairo later on Tuesday to be updated on the progress of the truce negotiations.
Commenting on the Gaza air strikes, which the Israeli military said targeted militants, the Palestinian official told Reuters that both sides were “trying to show they agreed to the truce out of strength, not weakness”.
An Israeli official said Israeli intelligence chiefs were sceptical a truce could last and that Israel could avoid launching a broad military operation in the Gaza Strip.
“If Hamas keeps the ceasefire, we can gradually deliver more goods and supplies,” the Israeli official said.
He said any commitment to a level of supplies into the Gaza Strip would be kept “vague on purpose” and that the enclave’s main crossing to the outside world, the Rafah terminal along the Egyptian frontier, would remain closed for now.
Israel tightened restrictions at its border crossings with the Gaza Strip after the Hamas takeover. In pursuing a truce, Hamas has sought a reopening of crossings, including at Rafah.
The Israeli official said Rafah could reopen only if there was “significant progress” on Shalit.
A Palestinian source familiar with the ceasefire negotiations said the Israeli-run Karni and Sufa crossings would step up operations three days after the truce takes effect, with the flow of goods set at 30 percent of the levels before Hamas took over the Gaza Strip.
Hamas, the source said, would guarantee that all Palestinian factions in the Gaza Strip abide by the ceasefire.
Ten days after the truce begins, Israel would ease limitations at Karni and Sufa, the source added, although some restrictions on certain goods would remain in place.
The source said Hamas and Fatah would try to work out a deal on administering the Rafah crossing, talks that would be held in parallel with negotiations on a prisoner swap for Shalit.
Additional reporting by Dan Williams in Jerusalem and Cairo bureau, Writing by Jeffrey Heller, Editing by Janet Lawrence