Jerusalem, Aug 11: Calm prevailed over Gaza at the start of a 72-hour ceasefire which came into effect at midnight between Israel and Palestinian militias, as diplomatic efforts continued in Cairo in hopes to end hostilities. During the past few hours, there were no reports of fighting on either side as the second three-day truce in a week held, in an attempt to open a window for dialogue after more than a month of hostilities in which nearly 2,000 Palestinians and 67 Israelis were killed.

The ceasefire took effect at midnight after a day of fighting which continued until the last moment. Shortly before midnight, Palestinian militants fired several rockets against cities in Israel near the border with Gaza and at least one on Tel Aviv. The Israeli Defence Forces (IDF) bombarded at least 20 targets in Gaza, killing four Palestinians, including two children, according to local health officials.

Israel claimed that one of the dead, who was killed in an attack carried out shortly before midnight, was responsible for tunnelling. The truce brokered by Egypt, which acts as a mediator, opens a quiet period for the two parties to try to resolve their differences at the negotiating table.

Israeli diplomatic sources quoted by media said the continuation of negotiations in Cairo depends on the commitment of the Islamic Palestinian movement Hamas to the ceasefire. The sources told the Ynet news website that if the other party respects the ceasefire, the Israeli delegation will arrive in Egypt Monday morning.

The Egyptian daily Al-Yom A-Sabea reported that the Israeli delegation is in the Egyptian capital since Sunday night. Meanwhile, Palestinian spokesmen said the talks depended on Israel’s acceptance of all of Hamas’s demands, especially lifting the blockade of Gaza that has been in force since 2006.

Khaled Mashaal, head of Hamas’s political bureau, said the war with Israel had put the blockade of Gaza on the international agenda. A document agreed by the Palestinian factions and subsequently delivered to Israel by Egyptian mediators last week also called for the opening of a seaport and an airport in Gaza.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has welcomed the new truce with the hope that it would allow the two sides to reach “a comprehensive and lasting ceasefire agreement”. In a statement, Ban said the truce was an opportunity to “address the underlying grievances of both sides”. The UN head urged all parties to work constructively to “avoid any steps which would lead to a return to violence”.