Gaza City (Palestinian Territories) – The Palestinian leadership said Tuesday they had reached agreement with Israel on a “permanent” halt to seven weeks of bloodshed in and around Gaza although Israel was silent on the claimed deal.
There was no immediate comment from Israeli officials, although a Palestinian official said the ceasefire would come into force at 1600 GMT.
Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas, outlining the deal in a speech in Ramallah, said: “We announce the Palestinian leadership’s agreement to Egypt’s call for a comprehensive and lasting truce, beginning at 7:00 pm (1600 GMT) today.”
News of the reported deal came after weeks of Egyptian-led efforts to end the violence, now in its 50th day, the deadliest between Israel and the Palestinians in a decade.
The fighting, which began on July 8, has killed 2,138 Palestinians, nearly three-quarters of them civilians, according to UN figures, and 68 on the Israeli side, nearly all of them soldiers.
There had been no sign of any letup in the fighting earlier on Tuesday, with 10 Palestinians killed in Israeli air strikes and tank shelling, and two dozen people lightly wounded, as Gaza militants fired 98 rockets at southern and central Israel.
There have been several short-term ceasefires between the two sides, which brought relief to millions of civilians, but they all broke down in the absence of any agreement on a longer-term truce.
The latest collapsed on August 19 as hostilities resumed amid mutual recriminations. The ensuing violence has killed 117 Palestinians and a four-year-old Israeli.
Israeli officials were tight-lipped about the claimed truce agreement.
Public radio quoted a government source as saying Israel had “not yet responded to the Egyptian proposal” for an open-ended ceasefire.
A Palestinian official in Ramallah told AFP: “The contacts that have been going on have led to a permanent ceasefire, a (deal to) end the blockade and a guarantee that Gaza’s demands and needs will be met.”
Ending Israel’s crippling eight-year blockade of Gaza had been a key Palestinian demand in earlier, abortive truce talks in Cairo.
The Islamist Hamas movement, de facto ruler of Gaza and a key participant in the Cairo talks, also confirmed a deal had been struck with Israel.
“The negotiations ended with an agreement which embodies the resistance of our people and a victory for the resistance,” its exiled deputy leader Mussa Abu Marzuk wrote on his Facebook page.
The arrangement came about after 48 hours of intensive shuttle diplomacy by Azzam al-Ahmed, head of the Palestinian delegation to the protracted, on-off truce talks, the Ramallah official said.
In Gaza, Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri said Egypt was expected to make an official announcement about the deal.
Earlier on Tuesday, Israeli warplanes kept up their pressure on Hamas with air strikes hitting two high-rise apartment blocks in Gaza City, wounding 40 people.
In the first strike, F16 fighter jets fired at least six rockets at a 16-storey complex in the Nasser neighbourhood, in which there were 60 flats and a shopping centre, completely destroying the building and wounding 25.
No one was killed because the army warned residents to leave in a pre-recorded message, a witness told AFP.
Warplanes then fired on the 14-storey Al-Basha building in Rimal neighbourhood, causing massive damage and wounding 15 people, witnesses and medics said.
The Israeli army said it had hit buildings that served as “Hamas command and control centres.”
It said it had also targeted two schools in central and northern Gaza from which “low-trajectory fire” had been directed at Israel.
‘We escaped by a miracle’
Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhum denounced the bombardment of the two tower blocks as “a war crime aimed at terrorising the people”.
In response, Hamas militants fired a barrage of longer-range rockets at Israel, although none hit further north than the port of Ashkelon, where a rocket hit a bungalow causing major damage and wounding 21 people.
Home owner Yuval Cohen said it was a miracle they had not been killed.
“We ran to the children’s room to wake them and while we were running, the rocket exploded in the bedroom,” Cohen told AFP.
“We escaped by a miracle. We didn’t even make it to the shelter.”