Nov 20, 2012 No Comments ›› Pat Dollard
(Reuters) – A Hamas official said on Tuesday Egypt had brokered a Gaza ceasefire deal that would go into effect within hours, but a spokesman for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said “we’re not there yet”.
“An agreement for calm has been reached. It will be declared at 9 o’clock (1900 GMT) and go into effect at midnight (2200 GMT),” Hamas official Ayman Taha told Reuters from Cairo, where intensive efforts have been under way to end seven days of fighting.
Netanyahu spokesman Mark Regev told Reuters the announcement was premature and Israeli military operations in Gaza, territory run by Hamas Islamists, would continue in parallel with diplomacy.
“We’re not there yet,” Regev said on CNN. “The ball’s still in play.”
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was heading to the region from Asia and was expected in Jerusalem late on Tuesday to meet Netanyahu.
Both Israel and the United States have said they preferred a diplomatic solution to the Gaza crisis to a possible Israeli ground operation in the densely-populated enclave of 1.7 million Palestinians.
“No country would tolerate rocket attacks against its cities and against its civilians. Israel cannot tolerate such attacks,” Netanyahu said with U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, who arrived in Jerusalem from talks in Cairo, at his side.
“If a long-term solution can be put in place through diplomatic means, then Israel would be a willing partner to such a solution,” he said.
“But if stronger military action proves necessary to stop the constant barrage of rockets, Israel will do what is necessary to defend our people,” said Netanyahu, who is favored to win a January general election.
Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal said on Monday that Israel must halt its military action in the Gaza Strip and lift the blockade of the Palestinian territory in exchange for a truce.
Hours before the Hamas official said an agreement had been clinched, Egypt’s state media quoted Egyptian President Mohamed Mursi as saying “that the farce of Israeli aggression against the Gaza Strip will end on Tuesday”
Mursi said, according to the reports, that “efforts to conclude a truce between the Palestinian and Israeli sides will produce positive results in the next few hours”.
Israel pressed on with air strikes and Palestinian rockets flashed across the border on Tuesday.
Israel’s military on Tuesday targeted about 100 sites in Gaza, including ammunition stores and the Gaza headquarters of the National Islamic Bank. Gaza’s Hamas-run Health Ministry said six Palestinians were killed.
Israeli police said more than 150 rockets were fired from Gaza by late afternoon, many of them intercepted by Israel’s Iron Dome system. Ten people were wounded in Israel, the military and an ambulance service said.
Medical officials in Gaza said 126 Palestinians have died in a week of fighting, the majority of them civilians, including 27 children.
Three Israelis died last week when a rocket from Gaza struck their house.