After several days of cross-border military attacks between Israel and Hamas militants in Gaza, the Israeli government said it will observe a ceasefire as long as Palestinians agree to cease their rocket attacks.
In an extraordinary gesture, Hamas' deputy foreign minister, Ghazi Hamad, spoke to state-run Israeli radio in Hebrew, calling for a halt to the fighting.
We are interested in calm but want the Israeli military to stop its operations, he said.
Ehud Barak, Israel’s Defense Minister said on public radio: If they stop firing on our communities, we will stop firing. If they stop firing in general, it will be quiet, it will be good.
However, Barak also warned: We cannot tolerate firing... We will act along the lines of what happens on the ground.
Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was ever more forceful, saying on Israeli radio if the criminal attacks against Israeli military and civilians continues, Israeli will respond with even more force.”
A spokesman for Hamas, the Islamist group which rules Gaza, said they also wanted to see an end to the attacks, which have claimed at least 18 Palestinian lives in the past week.
Sami Abu Zuhri told Reuters: If the Israeli aggression stopped, it would be natural for calm to be restored. Calm will be met with calm.
There remain great doubts over the likelihood of any ceasefire in Gaza.
A reporter from BBC who is in Gaza wrote: “Much will depend on Hamas's ability to enforce a truce. Firstly by getting its own military wing, several of whose members have been killed by Israel this week, to stop. Then by getting smaller militant groups to toe the line. How heavily Israel responds to any breaches in a ceasefire will also determine whether the recent flare-up in violence escalates further. Most analysts believe neither Hamas nor Israel want another major conflict but both are under pressure from their constituents not to be seen to be backing down.”
Meanwhile, the Arab League in Cairo has asked the United Nations Security Council to discuss the situation in Gaza and to perhaps impose a no-fly zone over the territory to prevent missile strikes by both sides.
However, any such measure would likely be blocked by the Unites States, Israel’s strongest ally.
A state of emergency has been declared in Gaza in light of Israel’s missile attacks, which have killed civilians.
An Al Jazeera correspondent in Gaza commented that civilians have paid a very heavy price, not only are they being killed but also dozens have been injured. Most of the injured are children ... there were children aged between 10 and 15 years, playing football, when a rocket hit and they were injured by pieces of shrapnel.