Israel and the Palestinian factions, including Gaza’s Hamas, have agreed to an Egyptian proposal for a three-day ceasefire as global pressure on Israel grows over mounting civilian deaths.
As well as brokering the truce – which began at 0500 GMT on Tuesday – the Egyptian government invited Israel and the Palestinians to attend indirect talks in Cairo aimed at securing a permanent end to violence that has killed 1,865 Palestinians as well as dozens of Israeli soldiers.
Israeli ground forces were also to completely withdraw from Gaza by the time the ceasefire was due to begin (at 8am local time), military spokesman Lieutenant-Colonel Peter Lerner told reporters.
He said troops would “be redeployed in defensive positions outside the Gaza Strip”.
Shortly before the truce began, a volley of rockets was fired into Israel from the Gaza Strip. Al Jazeera’s Imtiaz Tyab, reporting from Gaza, said before the clock struck 8am local time, Israeli airstrikes could be heard in the distance.
Three similar agreements have collapsed since the violence began, and Israel had resumed air strikes on Gaza after a patchy and limited seven-hour humanitarian truce ended on Monday, with one attack killing two people and wounding 16.
Both Hamas and Israel confirmed the deal to Al Jazeera, with officials from each side pledging to commit to the truce and warning the other against violating it.
“The deal is that we will have a 72-hour humanitarian ceasefire,” Osama Hamdan, a senior Hamas leader, told Al Jazeera, adding that he hoped Israel could “control itself.”
“During those 72-hours there will be a delegation from Israel coming to Cairo. There will be indirect negotiations between Palestinian and Israeli sides for a ceasefire and the lift of a siege on Gaza and other Palestinian demands.”
Mark Regev, a spokesman for the Israeli prime minister, told Al Jazeera that Israel was ready to discuss all of the issues on the table, but that it still had concerns.
“Our goals in this operation have always been ultimately defensive,” Regev said.
“If that goal of protecting our people from the rockets and the death squads can be done diplomatically, through this Egyptian agreement, then wonderful. We’ll be looking very closely to ensure that Hamas does in fact … live up to its obligations.”
United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon urged “utmost restraint” after the truce was announced.
Ban urged both sides to “commence, as soon as possible, talks in Cairo on a durable ceasefire and the underlying issues,” his office said hours after the announcement was made.
“In this regard, he welcomes the proactive engagement of the Palestinian delegation under the leadership of President Abbas.”
Gaza health ministry officials say 1,865 Palestinians, most of them civilians, have been killed by Israel’s bombardment of the tiny enclave. Palestinian shelling has killed three civilians in Israel and Israel has confirmed that 64 of its soldiers have been killed in combat.
The high number of civilian deaths in Gaza, and the fact that many of them children, has drawn unusually sharp criticism of aspects of Israel’s operation from the United Nations and from allies such as the US.
Israeli strikes have also forced more than one quarter of Gaza’s 1.8 million people from their homes and seen more than 3,000 of those homes destroyed.
“This madness must stop,” UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said on Sunday.
Palestinian groups, including envoys of Hamas and Islamic Jihad, were already in Cairo, where they had met the head of Egyptian intelligence on Monday to present their conditions for ending the conflict.
Immediately after the meeting, Egypt presented Israel with the demands, which included a ceasefire, the withdrawal of Israeli forces from Gaza, an end to the blockade of the strip and the release of some prisoners.
Earlier on Monday, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had appeared to dismiss growing global pressure for a truce, saying there would be no end to the campaign until he was sure there would be a long period of calm.
“The campaign in Gaza is continuing,” he said. “This operation will only end when quiet and security is established for the citizens of Israel for a prolonged period.”
Al Jazeera’s Charles Stratford, reporting from Gaza, said that the announcement of the ceasefire came at a time when Israel said it had completed the destruction of Hamas tunnels.