Truce agreement reached? A ceasefire between Israel and Hamas will begin on Thursday, a Palestinian official familiar with Egyptian-brokered truce efforts said on Tuesday.
"The two sides agreed and the implementation of the truce will begin at 6 am on Thursday," said the Palestinian official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to announce adeal. Later, Hamas sources confirmed that a truce agreement has indeed been reached.
Egyptian Foreign Ministry Spokesman Hossam Zaki confirmed the statement, saying "the military operations will cease at 6 am Thursday. Both sides agreed to halt all military activities against one another.
"It is not what the sides say that matters, but what they will actually do," he said.
Asked whether he believes the parties will uphold the truce, Zaki said "we hope so".
However, Defense Minister Ehud Barak said in response to the statement that “we are currently examining the possibility of reaching a truce in the near future – but it's too early to announce it.
"The IDF is prepared for any development, but it is important to maximize the chance for a truce in order to promote calmness among the Gaza-vicinity communities as well as negotiating to release Gilad Shalit,” he said.
Meanwhile, senior Hamas figure Mahmoud al-Zahar told a press conference in Gaza "there is no connection between the ceasefire and (kidnapped IDF soldier Gilad) Shalit," adding that the truce is a "victory for the resistance groups who carried arms, and it means that the siege on the Strip has failed".
Mahmoud al-Zahar (L) and Khalil al-Haya (Photo: Reuters)
Hamas figure Dr. Khalil al-Haya told the press conference that Gaza Strip border crossings will open hours after the truce goes into effect. He said the truce deal was finalized after agreement was reached among Hamas, the Palestinian Authority, and European mediators.
Officials in Jerusalem also said they could not confirm the Palestinian report for the time being.
"We are at the stage of looking into the details…it is possible that if everything is worked out, the ceasefire will go into effect in the coming days. We're not there yet," one political source said. Officials have expressed guarded optimism regarding the possibly of securing a truce in the next few days.
Deputy US State Department spokesman Tom Casey welcomed efforts to calm Gaza but expressed skepticism about Hamas' intentions.
"Saying you have a loaded gun to my head but you are not going to fire it today is far different than taking the gun down, locking it up and saying you're not going to use it again," he said, "even if this is in fact a true report, it hardly takes Hamas out of the terrorism business."
Gilad heading to Cairo
Meanwhile, senior Defense Ministry official Amos Gilad is expected to travel to Egypt Tuesday evening to meet with Egyptian Intelligence Chief Omar Suleiman. Defense officials told Ynet the trip was not planned in advance. One source estimated that Gilad's trip was a signal that the ceasefire outline proposed by Israel is close to being finalized. However, the final details will become known following the Cairo meeting.
On another front, the Hamas delegation that left Cairo Monday is expected to return to the Egyptian capital Tuesday night or Wednesday with some answers. Earlier Tuesday, a Palestinian source told Ynet: "If everything goes well, the lull will start this week."
A ceasefire would aim to end rocket and mortar bomb attacks on Israel from the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip and Israeli raids in the territory.
Israeli and Palestinian officials cautioned earlier on Tuesday that under any truce accord, the blockade Israel imposed on the Gaza Strip after Hamas seized the territory a year ago would be eased only gradually and partially.
Ali Waked and Hanan Greenberg contributed to the report