Egyptian Prime Minister Hisham Qandil crossed into Gaza on Friday for a brief visit amid a massive Israeli military campaign against militants in the Hamas-run territory.
Shortly ahead of his arrival at the Rafah crossing, Israel said it would during his visit, halt its relentless aerial campaign against the Gaza Strip, which has angered Egypt and sent tensions soaring across a Middle East already shaken by Arab Spring uprisings and a civil war in Syria.
“The Egyptian prime minister has arrived at the Rafah crossing and officials from the Palestinian (Hamas) government are welcoming him on the Palestinian side,” a security source told AFP.
Officials in Gaza said Qandil would meet with top members of the ruling Islamist Hamas movement on a brief visit.
Egypt’s Islamist President Mohamed Mursi — who hails from the Muslim Brotherhood movement that gave birth to Hamas — warned yesterday that Egypt would not accept Israel’s “aggression” in the Gaza Strip.
Israeli warplanes carried out relentless sorties over the Gaza Strip through the night while Palestinian militants fired more rockets into the Jewish state, which yesterday agreed in principle for the call-up of 30,000 reservists and warned it would expand its operation.
Early today Israel said it had agreed to an Egyptian request to cease fire during Qandil’s visit, which an Israeli official said is expected to last around three hours, on condition Gaza militants held their rocket fire.
The escalating conflict, which has so far killed 18 Palestinians and three Israelis, who died in rocket fire, has drawn expressions of deep concern internationally and sparked anger in the Arab and Muslim world.
As dawn broke in the tiny Palestinian enclave, Israeli war planes carried out multiple new air strikes, including several hits on Gaza City as Israel’s Operation Pillar of Defence, aimed at stamping out rocket fire, entered its third day.
“There have been 130 strikes overnight until now,” Hamas interior ministry spokesman Islam Shahwan said, citing “tens of strikes” across Gaza today morning.
The bloodshed began on Wednesday afternoon when Israel killed top Hamas military chief Ahmed Jaabari, sparking a massive escalation.
On the ground in Gaza emergency services spokesman Adham Abu Selmiya said the toll now stood at 18 Palestinians, several of them children, with a further 235 people injured in just over 36 hours of Israeli strikes.
The health ministry had earlier said 19, but later revised down its toll.