Egypt said on Tuesday it had brokered a “comprehensive and mutual” truce between Israel and Gaza armed groups, after four days of violence that left 25 Palestinians dead.
“An agreement ending the current operations between the two sides, including a halt to assassinations, entered into force at 1:00 am,” an Egyptian intelligence official told AFP on condition of anonymity.
He said the deal was reached after “intensive contacts” with both sides in a bid “to stop the military operations against the Gaza Strip and to end Palestinian bloodletting.”
“We accept a ceasefire if Israel agrees to apply it by ending its aggressions and assassinations,” Daud Shehab, spokesman of the Islamic Jihad, told AFP.
An Israeli minister confirmed an “understanding” had been reached for a truce to end four days of violence in the Gaza Strip.
“In fact there is an understanding, and we are following what’s going on in the field,” Home Front Defense Minister Matan Vilnai told public radio without going into detail but adding that “apparently things are calming down.”
The truce announcement came after four days of violence that began on Friday with Israel's assassination of the head of the Popular Resistance Committees, a militant group.
The strike prompted Gaza armed groups to fire hundreds of rockets and mortar rounds into southern Israel, wounding five people and prompting authorities to shut down schools and ban large gatherings in the area.
The Israeli military carried out dozens of air strikes during the flare-up, saying it was targeting militants and weapons facilities.
Palestinian medics put the total death toll late on Monday at 25, with more than 80 injured.
Of those killed, 19 were members of armed groups -- 14 from Islamic Jihad, and five from the Popular Resistance Committees -- and six were civilians, among them two minors.
In the hours before the ceasefire, four air strikes were reported, including one east of Gaza City that left two members of Islamic Jihad dead.
And between midnight and 9:00 pm (2200 GMT Sunday and 1900 GMT Monday), Gaza armed groups fired 66 rockets and mortar rounds, the army said, of which 42 hit Israeli territory, and 24 were intercepted by the Iron Dome missile system.
On Monday, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had warned that the army could expand its operations if the fire continued.
“The Israeli army is prepared to expand its activities, and will continue its activities as long as necessary,” he told MPs from his rightwing Likud party, hailing the Jewish state’s “crushing offensive abilities.”
But throughout the days of violence, Hamas said it was working with Egypt to end the conflict and restore the relative calm that had been in place.
The latest round of violence began on Friday after Israel killed Zuhair al-Qaisi, head of the Popular Resistance Committees, prompting militant groups to begin lobbing rockets over the border.
The army said Qaisi had planned a deadly attack in August 2011 and accused him of planning a repeat attack “in the coming days.”
The violence prompted international concern, with U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on Monday condemning the “rocket fire from Gaza by terrorists into southern Israel.”
“We call on those responsible to take immediate action to stop these attacks. And we call on both sides, all sides, to make every effort to restore calm,” she told the U.N. Security Council.
She later joined her counterparts from the European Union, Russia and the United Nations for a meeting of the so-called Middle East Quartet, which “expressed serious concern for the recent escalation.”
“The Quartet reiterates its call on the parties to remain engaged and to refrain from provocative actions,” a statement said.
Gaza, home to 1.7 million people, was under Israeli occupation from 1967 until 2005 and remains under blockade, according to Reuters.
Hamas has controlled Gaza since seizing it from West Bank-based Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in 2007, and is fighting for an independent Palestinian state but has shunned the stalled peace process supervised by international powers and refuses to recognize the Jewish state.
Violent flareups have been frequent between Israel and Gaza’s militant factions in the past few years, in most cases lasting no longer than a week.
The last conflagration of this intensity was in August after a cross-border attack launched from Egypt killed seven in Israel and Israel struck back killing 15 Gaza gunmen.
Meanwhile, government officials and missile experts in Israel praised the performance of Iron Dome, an Israeli-made system designed to shoot down short-range rockets like those fired from Gaza.
Iron Dome has been rolled out over the past year, and the current fighting poses its most serious test. Israel has other systems deployed against longer-range missiles.
Iron Dome uses cameras and radar to track incoming rockets and intercepts only those that would pose a threat to people and property, ignoring those that are expected to fall in open areas.
The military said that of 143 rockets fired since Friday, it tried to intercept 63 and succeeded in all but nine of those attempts.
Uzi Rubin, a missile expert and former Defense Ministry official, said Iron Dome has exceeded expectations. “The performance up to now has been almost flawless,” Rubin said, according to The Associated Press, adding that the perception could change quickly in the event of casualties.
Military analyst Yiftah Shapir said Iron Dome would likely score fewer interceptions if Israel were attacked by a larger number of missiles simultaneously, a scenario Israel would have to consider if it attacks Iran over its nuclear program. Tehran’s proxies on Israel’s borders -- the Lebanese Hezbollah militia, along with Hamas and Islamic Jihad in Gaza -- are believed to have a stockpile of tens of thousands of rockets and missiles.
Shapir said Iron Dome has given a psychological boost to those living in rocket range, but it has not reduced the economic damage caused by closing schools and keeping hundreds of thousands of people from their jobs and daily routines.