A renewed truce between Israel and Hamas appeared to be holding despite a shaky start, after both sides agreed to give Egyptian-brokered talks more time to try to end the Gaza war.
The Israeli military on Thursday said fighters in Gaza breached the truce and fired eight rockets at Israel and that in response, aircraft targeted multiple “rocket launchers and terror sites” across the enclave.
Hamas official Izzat Reshiq denied the Palestinians had breached the truce, and denounced Israel’s air strikes as “a violation of the calm”.
No casualties were reported in any of the incidents, and hostilities had ended by dawn.
A halt in more than a month of fighting, in which 1,945 Palestinians and 67 Israelis have been killed, had been set to expire at midnight on Wednesday.
If it holds, the five day ceasefire will be the longest period peace since hostilities began.
The violence is the deadliest since the two sides fought a three-week war in the winter of 2008-9.
At the last minute, the Palestinians announced in Cairo that the truce was extended by another five days for the sides to work out a long-term ceasefire, mediated by Egypt.
“Israel has accepted the ceasefire extension,” said an Israeli official, speaking on condition of anonymity.
Bridging the gaps between Israel and the Palestinians in order to secure a permanent ceasefire has proved to be difficult.
“It is the first time we have a five-day ceasefire. The previous ones have been three days. It has been a rocky start,” said Al Jazeera’s Andrew Simmons, reporting from Gaza.
“The negotiations went right up to the wire before the Palestinians made their announcement. Then, within a few minutes, there was rocket fire on the Wednesday night, and then early into Thursday, in the first three minutes of the ceasefire, there were at least three rockets entering Israeli territory and the response was at least three airstrikes by the Israelis … We have since then what appears to be a ceasefire.”
Hamas and its allies want an end to the Israeli and Egyptian blockade on Gaza. But Israel and Egypt harbour deep security concerns about Hamas, the dominant group in the small, Mediterranean coastal enclave, complicating any deal on easing border restrictions.
Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh told Al-Aqsa Hamas television on Wednesday that the group would insist on “lifting the Gaza blockade” and reducing movement restrictions on the territory’s 1.8 million residents, as a prerequisite to a “permanent calm”.
Members of the Palestinian delegation said they would return to Cairo on Saturday night to begin more talks on Sunday.
Egyptian and Palestinian sources told Reuters news agency Israel had tentatively agreed to allow some supplies into Gaza and relax curbs on the cross-border movement of people and goods, subject to certain conditions.
A Palestinian demand for a Gaza seaport and reconstruction of an airport destroyed in previous conflicts with Israel has also been a stumbling block, with Israel citing security reasons for opposing their operation.
The sides have agreed to delay discussion of any agreement on the ports for a month, a Palestinian official said.
As part of the Egyptian blueprint, Israel was expected to expand fishing limits it imposes on Gaza fishermen to 10 km from the usual 3-mile offshore zone.
“It will increase gradually to no less than 12 miles in coordination between the Palestinian Authority and Israel,” the official said, referring to a likely expanded role in Gaza for Western-backed Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, based in the occupied West Bank.