20 Nov 2012

Israel and Hamas ‘agree to ceasefire’

Hamas says a ceasefire has been agreed at Egyptian-brokered talks with Israel that will come into effect tonight. But Israel says a deal has not been finalised.

Following Israel’s decision to put plans for a ground invasion of Gaza on hold while the talks in Cairo took place, Hamas official Ayman Taha told Reuters: “An agreement for calm has been reached.”

He said the ceasefire would begin at midnight local time.

Earlier, Egyptian President Mohamed Mursi said that “efforts to conclude a truce between the Palestinian and Israeli sides will produce positive results in the next few hours”.

But Israeli government spokesman Mark Regev told CNN the “ball is still in play”, adding: “Until you’re there, you’re not there.”

Before the ceasefire announcements, more than 110 Palestinians and three Israelis had been killed in the latest spate of violence. The Israeli army confirmed tonight that a fourth Israeli – a soldier – also died after a rocket was fired from Gaza.

Israeli ministers met on Monday night to discuss ongoing peace talks in Cairo, before agreeing to put plans for a ground offensive in Gaza on hold. One official told the Jerusalem Post that Israel would prefer a “diplomatic solution”.

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is expected to fly into Israel on Tuesday and meet Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu on Wednesday.

The White House said Ms Clinton was going to the Middle East for talks in Jerusalem, Ramallah and Cairo to try to calm the conflict.

Ban Ki-moon, the UN secretary general, is also due to meet Mr Netanyahu. Speaking on Tuesday, he called for an immediate ceasefire in Gaza and said an Israeli ground operation in the Palestinian enclave would be a “dangerous escalation” that must be avoided.

Read more: Death on display as Gaza mourns its dead
William Hague (Reuters)

Hague update

Back in the UK, Mr Hague told the Commons that while Hamas bore responsibility for the start of hostilities, the Israeli government had to be restrained in its response.

The foreign secretary was in Brussels on Monday for talks with EU leaders, and praised the diplomatic intervention by Egypt and its efforts to negotiate a ceasefire.

“I am pleased that Israel has held back from a ground invasion while such negotiations go on, and that the rate of rocket attacks on Israel has fallen, for whatever reason, over the last 24 hours,” he said.

“These are positive developments, but of course it remains a desperately serious and difficult situation.”

He also used his statement to MPs to talk about the crisis in Syria and update them on his meeting with the country’s newly formed opposition coalition last week.

Mr Hague said the government now recognised a newly-formed coalition of rebel groups, the National Coalition of the Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces, as the “sole legitimate representative of the Syrian people”.