Hamas officials in the Gaza Strip said late Thursday an agreement to suspend hostilities had been declared with Israel after a flare-up of violence in the coastal enclave that left three Palestinians dead.
The truce was brokered by Egypt and UN Middle East envoy Nickolay Mladenov, according to the Popular Resistance Committee, which said the calm would hold under the condition that Israel respected it.
Israel has not confirmed the agreement but a spokesman for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said earlier Thursday evening that the security cabinet had “instructed the [Israeli Defence Forces] to continue to act with force against perpetrators of terror.”
Over the past two days, Palestinian militants have launched some 180 projectiles at Israel, which responded with wide-scale airstrikes.
A pregnant woman, her 18-month-old child and a Hamas militant were killed, according to the Gaza Health Ministry. Nearly 30 other Palestinians were reported to have been injured.
Israeli army spokesman Jonathan Conricus would not comment on the incident that killed the mother and child except to say that Israel bombed “military targets that were clearly used by Hamas.”
While the major Palestinian rocket launches had ended by Thursday morning, a rocket landed some 40 kilometres from the Gaza Strip near the Israeli city of Beersheba in the afternoon, police said.
Israel responded with a further volley of missiles that Palestinians said destroyed a building in western Gaza City.
Hamas is demanding the lifting of the 11-year blockade imposed by Israel and Egypt on the Gaza Strip since Hamas seized power.
Israel wants the militant group to stop launching projectiles, including incendiary balloons, and to stop near-weekly border protests that have raged since the end of March.
Mladenov warned earlier Thursday that the current fighting “can rapidly deteriorate with devastating consequences for all people.”
“The UN has engaged with Egypt and all concerned parties in an unprecedented effort to avoid such a development,” he added.
Israel and Hamas have fought three wars since 2007 as the Gaza Strip – home to some 2 million people – descends into an increasingly dire humanitarian situation.
The escalating exchanges of fire started on Wednesday when, the Israeli army says, gunmen fired on civilian construction workers building a barrier along the northern Gaza Strip border.
Israel retaliated by targeting a Hamas position and a wave of Palestinian rocket fire followed.
More than 160 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli fire and clashes with the army during the protests which began on March 30.
Hamas, which is regarded as a terrorist organization by many countries, and Israel have since exchanged several bouts of fire and Palestinians have launched flaming kites and balloons that have burned swathes of Israeli territory.