Israel and the Islamist group Hamas, which controls the Gaza Strip, agreed to a cease-fire after five days of cross-border violence, said officials.
Two rockets fired from Gaza a few hours after the deal took effect fell harmlessly in an open area in southern Israel, a military official said. A small militant faction in Gaza, that said it was not a party to the truce, claimed responsibility for the shootings.
An official involved in the talks mediated by Egypt and the United Nations said the groups involved had “reached an understanding on a truce and that the truce has started.”
Israeli Defence Minister Ehud Barak said he was “very glad we called a halt” referring to the violence which had also sparked a diplomatic row with Egypt, five of whose security officers were killed as Israeli troops pursued gunmen who had carried out a series of deadly attacks in Israel, Reuters reports.
Eight Israelis — six civilians and two soldiers — were killed Thursday when the gunmen crossed into southern Israel and opened fire on a number of vehicles on a quiet desert road. At least seven of the attackers were also killed, Israel said.
A total of 15 Palestinians, including five civilians, and one Israeli were killed in the subsequent cross-border air strikes and rocket attacks.
Egypt has threatened to withdraw its ambassador to Tel Aviv over the deaths of its troops. Barak said Saturday he regretted their deaths.
Asked by Israel’s Channel 2 television about these comments, Barak said, “I did not apologise to Egypt.” He said he had taken what he saw as a “necessary step” to ease tensions with Cairo and that Israel’s investigation of the incident was not yet complete.
A Palestinian official said Hamas had agreed to ensure the recognition of the cease-fire by smaller militant groups which were responsible for most of the rockets fired at Israel in the latest surge in violence.
Barak said Israel would “wait and see” before deciding whether to respond to the attacks launched after the truce.
Like similar arrangements in the past, the truce is not a formal agreement, but consists of each side saying it would halt hostilities if the other side did the same.
Israel has blamed Gaza’s armed Popular Resistance Committees (PRC) group for Thursday’s attacks and killed two of its leaders and three of its militants in an air strike shortly afterwards.
It also said the gunmen had entered Israel from the Sinai desert and that this had raised doubts as to whether Egypt was able to maintain control in the border area.