Middle East

Gaza crisis: Hamas says ceasefire 'imminent'

Media playback is unsupported on your device
Media captionPeople in Gaza have been recovering belongings amongst the rubble

A ceasefire is set to be announced in the Gaza conflict, Egyptian and Palestinian officials say.

Egypt's President Mohammed Mursi, who has led mediation efforts, said he expected Israel to end air strikes late on Tuesday. A Hamas official also told the BBC a truce was imminent.

Israel has not confirmed this, but has put plans for a land invasion on hold.

It also said that an Israeli soldier and a civilian had been killed by a rockets fired from Gaza.

The death of the soldier in the Eshkol area is the first reported Israeli military fatality in the latest flare-up of violence, which began last week with the killing of a Hamas military leader.

Israel says that assassination, and its subsequent offensive, aims to end rocket fire from Gaza.

The Israeli civilian who died on Tuesday was working for the defence ministry, and was killed in the Negev desert. Three Israeli civilians died last Thursday in the Israeli town of Kiryat Malachi.

Gaza's health ministry says at least 130 Palestinians, many of them civilians, have died since last Wednesday.

Evacuation order

Despite talks of a ceasefire, Israel has told residents in villages around Gaza City to move to central areas for their own safety.

Leaflets dropped in a number of villages said: "The Israel Defense Forces are not targeting any of you and they do not want to harm you or your families. For your safety, we demand you to evacuate your houses immediately and move towards the centre of Gaza city."

Israel stepped up heavy artillery fire in Gaza from 18:00 GMT. The army said it has targeted "two terror operatives" in the central Gaza Strip.

In an earlier strike on Tuesday, the Israeli military reported a "direct hit" on two other militants in northern Gaza.

It also said about 150 rockets had been fired from Gaza towards Israel, and many had been intercepted by Israel's Iron Dome missile defence system. Five soldiers were wounded in one rocket attack, the military said, without specifying the location.

In Gaza, two of those killed were journalists from a Hamas-linked TV channel.

And two people were injured when a rocket from Gaza hit the central Israeli city of Rishon Letzion, badly damaging a block of flats.

Separately, Hamas fighters summarily executed six people on Tuesday afternoon, accusing them of being Israeli Israeli informers.

One eyewitness told AFP news agency: "Gunmen in a minibus pulled up in the neighbourhood, pushed six men out and shot them without leaving the vehicle."

President Mursi said Israel's "aggression" against Gaza would end on Tuesday and Egypt's mediation efforts would produce "positive results" shortly, the official Mena news agency reported.

Later, Hamas spokesman Ayman Taha said he expected a ceasefire to come into effect at midnight local time (22:00 GMT).

Israeli government spokesman Mark Regev told the BBC that a deal with Gaza militants had not been finalised and that the "diplomatic ball is still in play".

Earlier, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said: "If a long-term solution can be put in place by diplomatic means, Israel will be a willing partner."

Regional risk

The content of the Egyptian plan is not known, but both Israel and Hamas have presented conditions.

Media playback is unsupported on your device
Media captionUN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon: ''Israel must exercise maximum restraint''

Israel's demands include no hostile fire of any kind from Gaza and international efforts to prevent Hamas from rearming, while Hamas is demanding an end to the blockade on Gaza and "Israel's assassinations".

Israeli troops are massed along the border, raising fears of a ground offensive similar to that of 2008-09. An Israeli spokesman told the BBC: "Israel wants talks to succeed but we're prepared to go into Gaza."

In a rare appearance, top Hamas military commander Mohammed Deif said: "The enemy should know that it will pay a heavy price for its heinous crimes against our people." He added that a ground invasion would "be the starting point for a new phase of the struggle of liberation".

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is due in Israel for crisis talks later on Tuesday. She will underline that "the best way to solve this is through diplomacy", said Mr Obama's Deputy National Security Adviser, Ben Rhodes.

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon met Arab League Chief Nabil al-Arabi in Cairo on Tuesday, before heading for Israel.

During a joint news conference with Mr Netanyahu, Mr Ban condemned Palestinian rocket attacks but urged Israel to show "maximum restraint".

"Further escalation benefits no one," he said.

Hamas came to power in Gaza in 2007, a year after winning a decisive victory in general elections. Israel withdrew from the strip in 2005 but maintains a blockade.

Israel, as well as the United States and the European Union, regards Hamas as a terrorist organisation.


Tel Aviv, Israel

An Israeli woman looks out from her apartment in a building damaged by a rocket fired from the Gaza Strip in the southern city of Ashdod.

Panic as rocket targets Tel Aviv sending people fleeing for cover

Ashkelon, Israel

 An Israeli man looks out from an apartment building in Kiryat Malachi, Israel which officials say was hit by a rocket launched from the Gaza Strip.

Ashkelon bears the brunt of rocket attacks on Israel

Jabaliya refugee camp

A Palestinian man inspects the damage to a house, after an Israeli airstrike in Jabaliya north Gaza.

A man surveys the rubble of a house in Jabaliya refugee camp

Gaza City

Palestinians survey the damage done to Gaza's ministry of interior building following an Israeli air strike.

The homes of at least seven Hamas officials hit in Israeli attacks on Gaza City