Palestinian armed factions in the Gaza Strip are observing a 24-hour halt to rocket fire against Israel at the request of Egyptian mediators, a senior official of the ruling Islamist Hamas group said on Monday.
Ayman Taha said the brief ceasefire went into effect on Sunday evening. He said Hamas mighty consider a longer truce if Israel were to reciprocate by ceasing all military attacks in Gaza and lifting an embargo on the impoverished territory.
A six-month Egyptian-brokered truce between Israel and Hamas expired on Friday with exchanges of fire across the border raising fears of a wider conflict.
"Hamas and other factions agreed in order to give a chance to the Egyptian mediation and to show that the problem was always on the Israeli side," Taha told Reuters.
"If a new (truce) offer were made, which met our demands, then we would be willing to study it."
The news of the 24-hour truce came as Israel launched a diplomatic campaign to gather international support for a major offensive on Gaza following the expiry of a truce.
In a letter to U.N. chief Ban Ki-moon, Israel's envoy to the United Nations Gabriela Shalev said the Jewish state would respond to continuing rocket fire, foreign ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor told AFP.
Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, leader of the main governing Kadima party, has ordered Israeli ambassadors around the world to emphasize that Israel "will not hesitate to react militarily if necessary" to protect its citizens.
"The world must understand that the situation in southern Israel is intolerable for hundreds of thousands of citizens exposed to rocket fire," foreign ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor told AFP.
"We cannot remain with our arms crossed. Either the international community intervenes or we will have to act," he said.
The public relations effort came a day after Israel threatened a major offensive against the impoverished territory that has been ruled by Hamas since June last year.
Abbas in Russia
Meanwhile, Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas was in Moscow for a first meeting with President Dmitry Medvedev in which he hopes to secure Russian support in keeping Middle East peace efforts on track.
Abbas was also to meet Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov against a backdrop of resurgent unrest in the Middle East, with Israel threatening a major offensive against Gaza.
"During the discussions (Abbas) will insist on the necessity that Israel stop building settlements and prevent a rollback to the starting point of the negotiations," Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erakat told AFP ahead of the talks.
The two sides would also discuss plans for a Mideast peace conference that Russia hopes to host in Moscow next year, he added.
Over the weekend Abbas visited Grozny, the capital of Russia's war-ravaged region of Chechnya, and met Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov in a trip that the Russian newspaper Kommersant said would "undoubtedly" please the Kremlin.
"Mahmud Abbas became the first leader of the Muslim world to fly to Chechnya," the newspaper said, pointing out that Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi and Jordan's King Abdullah II had not toured Chechnya on visits to Russia.
"This will undoubtedly please Moscow," Kommersant said.