Middle East

Israel and Gaza militants agree truce after clashes

A ceasefire is in place between Israel and Palestinian militants in Gaza after four days of deadly clashes.

The Egyptian-mediated truce took effect at 01:00 local time (23:00 GMT Monday).

The recent violence "appears to be behind us," said Israeli Cabinet Minister Matan Vilnai.

At least 25 Palestinians have been killed in Israeli air strikes since Friday, reports say. Israel says 35 people were injured in Palestinian rocket attacks.

Officials from Hamas, which governs Gaza, told the BBC that Israel had agreed to stop targeting leaders of militant groups in Gaza, if rocket attacks on its southern cities ceased.

The number of Palestinian attacks dropped sharply after the truce went into effect overnight, and no major towns in southern Israel were targeted.

The Israeli military said a total of six rockets and mortars had hit, causing no casualties, and that there had been no Israeli air strikes in the Gaza Strip.

Previous ceasefire deals after earlier rounds of fighting have often taken a day or two to take effect fully.

The deal was brokered by the Egyptian authorities, who reportedly negotiated with each side separately.

Four days of cross-border violence was triggered by an Israeli air strike on Friday that killed a senior leader of the militant group, the Popular Resistance Committees (PRC), who Israel said had been planning an attack.

Militants in Gaza responded quickly by unleashing a barrage of rockets towards southern Israel, triggering further air strikes.

Most of those killed in Gaza were militants, but several civilians also died, Palestinian medical sources say.

Israel said the major reason for a relatively low number of injuries among its population was the country's new Iron Dome missile system, which shot down about 50 rockets launched from Gaza.

The US condemned the rocket attacks as "cowardly"; the Arab League called the Israeli air strikes "a massacre".

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon expressed grave concern over the flare-up in violence, describing rocket attacks on Israeli civilians as "unacceptable" and urging Israel to "exercise maximum restraint".

Islamic Jihad and the PRC - and not Hamas - have said they have been behind the rocket attacks.

The increase in violence has alarmed world powers trying to bring peace talks between Palestinians and Israelis back on track.