Israel and militants from the Gaza Strip have agreed to an Egyptian-brokered ceasefire that will come into force at midnight local (2200 GMT), Hamas official Ayman Taha said, speaking to Reuters from Cairo.
“An agreement for calm has been reached. It will be declared at 9.00 p.m. and go into effect at midnight,” Taha said.
Why the delay? It takes a while for word to get to the individual units, especially for Hamas, which lacks the kind of robust communication infrastructure of a modern army. The delay allows for a period of exchanges that do not undermine confidence in the eventual cessation — unless they continue past the deadline, that is.
So far, no word on the terms has been given. Israel had paused its ground offensive, in part to see whether a diplomatic solution could be reached, and in part because their air war had been effective in combination with the Iron Dome missile-defense system. That may have been the driving force behind Hamas’ decision to halt the attacks, as they had not been effective at all in creating any widespread damage.
Stay tuned for updates.
Update: And just as those reports went live, Fox News has a headline up saying, “Israeli official denies Hamas claim of Egyptian brokered truce, says both sides still talking.”
Update: More from Fox’s Leland Vittert:
Fox News correspondent Leland Vittert just reported on a ceasefire apparently adopted by Israel and Gaza militants. Hamas leaders have confirmed to Reuters that a ceasefire deal is about to be announced. The ceasefire would take effect at midnight local time.
He reported that in the Middle East in the hours leading to a ceasefire, there is often a heightened amount of firing on both sides as they attempt to hit their final targets.
He continued, “Our own reporting here from Fox News in Jerusalem indicates the ceasefire deal has probably, in the best way to put it, this has been penciled in, it has not yet been signed in ink. In the Middle East, anything can fall apart at any moment.”
So perhaps the deal has been reached, but both sides want to wait a few ticks before making it official.
Update: Reuters notes that there has been no official reaction from Israel:
An Egyptian-brokered ceasefire in the Gaza conflict will go into effect later on Tuesday, a Hamasofficial said.
There was no immediate Israeli comment. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said earlier he was open to a long-term deal to halt Palestinian rocket attacks on his country.
We’ll have to wait a bit longer to see whether this deal is for real — or a dodge by Hamas. The Fox update, though, suggests that the Israelis are still engaged. If this leak was a PR ploy, Israel will make an official comment quickly.
Update: Now we have an official response from Israel that the announcement was premature, at the same link as the last update:
Netanyahu spokesman Mark Regev told Reuters the announcement was premature and Israeli military operations in Gaza, territory run by Hamas Islamists, would continue in parallel with diplomacy.
“We’re not there yet,” Regev said on CNN. “The ball’s still in play.”
The report from Fox’s Vitter says that a large increase in rocket attacks from Gaza has begun to overwhelm the Iron Dome defense, which means that Hamas wants to push it as much as possible before cutting off the rocket attacks — if they do at all.