(photo credit: REUTERS)
Israel and the Palestinians began talks in Cairo on Monday in hopes of reaching a long-range truce to end hostilities in Gaza, Egypt's state news agency MENA said.
The indirect talks are being mediated by Egypt and began a day after the two sides agreed to begin a new 72-hour cease-fire.
Shortly after Egyptian media announced on Sunday evening that a cease-fire had been accepted by both sides, Israeli officials stated that Israel had accepted a truce but would only send a delegation to Cairo on Monday if Hamas kept the peace overnight. There have been no rockets fired at Israel from Gaza since the truce went into effect at midnight.
According to the officials, the decision was taken in accordance with Israel’s policy that it will not negotiate while under fire.
Hamas fired a barrage of rockets at Israeli cities shortly before the 72-hour truce came into effect including a rocket which landed in open territory near Tel Aviv moments before the cease-fire's initiation at 12 a.m. The Iron Dome rocket defense system intercepted two rockets over Ashdod.
Asked why Jerusalem believes Hamas accepted the cease-fire after rejecting an extension on Friday morning, an Israeli government official said that Hamas was under a great deal of strain that included not only military pressure from Israel but also pressure from many in the Arab world, as well as people in Gaza who want to see the crisis end.
Egypt's Foreign Ministry urged "both sides to exploit this truce to resume indirect negotiations immediately and work towards a comprehensive and lasting cease-fire agreement".
The new truce won the praise of United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon who, in a statement, urged both sides to "avoid any steps which would lead to a return to violence."
Ban expressed a "strong hope" the truce might lead to a "durable cease-fire for the benefit of all civilian populations and as a starting point to address the underlying grievances on both sides."
Hamas has demanded an end to Israeli and Egyptian blockades of the coastal territory and the opening of a Gaza seaport - a project Israel says should be dealt with only in any future talks on a permanent peace deal with the Palestinians.
Israel opened the Kerem Shalom crossing to bring goods into Gaza on Monday after having closed it down on Sunday due to rocket fire.
Herb Keinon contributed to this report.