Israel and Palestinian militants agreed to a new 72-hour cease-fire beginning at midnight Sunday, and an Israeli delegation was expected to travel to Cairo on Monday if it held in its first hours.
True to form, rocket fire aimed at Israel from the Gaza Strip continued nearly up to the deadline, with at least four rockets fired toward Beersheba and Ashdod. Three of the four were intercepted by Israel’s Iron Dome defense system.
The last siren sounded in Israel at 11:48 p.m.
Earlier in the day, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had said Israel would not negotiate as long as attacks continued. The cease-fire was proposed by Egypt, which has hosted on-again, off-again talks in an effort to broker a broader deal to end the fighting.
Hostilities between Israel and Hamas had resumed Friday after an earlier 72-hour cease-fire expired, frustrating Egyptian efforts to extend the break in fighting to gain more time for a negotiated truce. Israeli officials left Cairo and the talks Friday. Palestinian representatives remained in Cairo for discussions with Egyptian officials but threatened to leave if Israel did not modify its negotiating positions.
Israel had offered nothing, said Azzam Ahmad, who leads the Palestinian delegation. If Israel did not return to talks in Cairo without preconditions, the Palestinians might return to the West Bank city of Ramallah for consultations, he said.
Hamas officials have accused Israel of procrastinating and rejecting its demands, including opening border crossings, building an air and sea port and committing to refrain from military actions once this operation ends. Israel’s hawkish foreign minister, Avigdor Lieberman, said Sunday that Hamas’ minimum demands “exceed the maximum Israel can accept.”
Chances of reaching an agreement were slim and the Palestinian delegation could leave Cairo at any moment, Hamas official Izzat Rishq tweeted Sunday.
Meanwhile, Israel’s army maintained positions along the border, poised to resume operations if instructed by the government. In the hours before the latest cease-fire began, Israeli military operations appeared to be limited to airstrikes.
The military staged a series of strikes on Gaza cities, including Khan Yunis, Zeitoun and Rafah. Palestinian news media reported at least two people were killed Sunday, including a 13-year-old girl and a 17-year-old boy.
The Palestinian barrage directed at Israel was mostly limited to mortar shells and short-range rockets, frustrating some residents of Israeli areas close to the border with Gaza who have recently returned, and discouraging others from coming back.
Hamas is mistaken if it thinks it will wear down Israel by attrition, said Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon on Sunday, adding that Israel would settle for nothing less than “a complete cessation of fire.”
The monthlong war has left nearly 2,000 Palestinians dead and widespread devastation throughout the coastal strip. Repairs to power lines partially restored electricity in Gaza on Sunday, but officials say extensive damage to infrastructure will take months to repair.
Turkey planned to send 3,000 prefabricated homes to Gaza, Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah told Palestinian radio.
Hamdallah also said an international conference on rebuilding Gaza could convene in Oslo next month but that donor countries were concerned about aid going to Hamas salaries.
Sobelman is a special correspondent. Special correspondents Amro Hassan in Cairo and Maher Abukhater in Ramallah, West Bank, contributed to this report.