Parachute flares illuminate the Gaza Strip for an artillery barrage hours before a cease-fire between Israel and Hamas took effect Wednesday, Nov. 20, 2012. (Getty Images)
Israel and Hamas agreed to a Wednesday evening cease-fire, ending eight days of explosive fighting between the Jewish state and the terrorist group.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton announced the agreement during a joint news conference with Egypt's foreign minister in Cairo. The deal called for an immediate cessation in violence; for Hamas to halt all rocket fire from militant groups in the Gaza Strip; and for Israel to end its policy of assassinating top Hamas officials. Israel also pledged to ease its blockade of Gaza after a brief cooling off period.
"This is a critical moment for the region," Clinton said during the news conference, approximately 90 minutes before the cease-fire was scheduled to take effect. "The people of this region deserve the chance to live free from fear and violence."
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in a statement Israel would "give a chance" to the Egypt-brokered deal.
"Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu spoke a short time ago with President Barack Obama and agreed to his suggestion to give a chance to Egypt’s proposal for a cease-fire, and to give a chance to stabilize and calm the situation before it would be needed to activate greater force," a Hebrew statement posted on the prime minister's website said.
Netanyahu thanked Obama for his support for Israel during the operation and for contributing to the "Iron Dome" missile defense system.
"The prime minister emphasized again that Israel will take all the necessary steps to defend the citizens of Israel," the statement said.
Speaking shortly before the cease-fire was set to take place, Netanyahu made clear Israel would not tolerate the continued smuggling of arms into Gaza, specifically naming Iran as a collaborator.
"It is self-evident that Israel cannot sit and accept as our enemies continue to arm themselves with terrorist arms," Netanyahu said.
In a statement, the White House announced that President Barack Obama commended Netanyahu for agreeing to the cease-fire proposal "while reiterating that Israel maintains the right to defend itself."
Obama also spoke with Egyptian President Mohammad Morsi to thank him for his "personal leadership" in brokering the deal, the White House said, and "reaffirmed the close partnership between the United States and Egypt."
The cease-fire announcement did not mean an immediate end to the violence: Israeli media reported rockets were being launched from Gaza into the southern Israeli cities of Beersheba, Netivot, Sderot and Ashdod after the cease-fire was announced but before it went into effect.
Israel's Channel 2 reported five rockets were fired toward Beersheba. No injuries were reported.
The Israeli military cautioned all southern Israeli residents not to gather in crowds and to remain in their safe rooms.
An Israeli military spokesperson tweeted approximately 20 minutes before the cease-fire took effect: "A short while ago in
#Gaza, the IDF targeted 3 tunnels used for terrorist activity and 2 underground rocket launchers."
This post has been updated.
TheBlaze's Sharona Schwartz contributed reporting from Israel.