Ceasefire begins in Gaza

The 72-hour ceasefire was brokered by John Kerry and Ban Ki-moon.

Palestinian women react amid the destruction in the northern district of Beit Hanun in the Gaza Strip during a humanitarian truce on 26 July, 2014. Picture: AFP.

JOHANNEBURG/GAZA - A three day humanitarian ceasefire in Gaza has now come into effect as South Africa's presidential envoys to the Middle East prepare to go to Qatar to meet the leaders of Hamas.

Former deputy foreign affairs minister Aziz Pahad returned from Gaza on Thursday and says they now have clarity on the expectations from both sides.

"We don't have the magic one to solve the problem, ours is to share our experiences. We've got a better understanding of their perspective and the negotiations, the way forward and we're now going to Qatar to meet Hamas."

The ceasefire was brokered by the US special envoy John Kerry and the United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki moon, who are both heading to Cairo, Egypt to seek a long term solution to the conflict.

An official in Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's office said Israel had accepted the US/UN proposal.

A spokesman for Hamas, the dominant group in Gaza, said all Palestinian factions will abide by the truce.

"We urge all parties to act with restraint until this humanitarian ceasefire begins, and to fully abide by their commitments during the ceasefire," Kerry and Ban said.

"This ceasefire is critical to giving innocent civilians a much-needed reprieve from violence."

Hours before the ceasefire was announced, Netanyahu, facing international alarm over a rising civilian death toll in Gaza, said he would not accept any truce that stopped Israel from completing the destruction of infiltration tunnels.

Gaza officials say at least 1,441 Palestinians and over 50 Israelis have been killed since the fighting started 25 days ago.

Kerry says his delegation will be heading to Cairo to ensure concerns from both parties are addressed.

"Parties obviously need to find a way to address Israel's security concerns and to ensure that the people of Gaza can live in safety and dignity. For our part, the United States will be sending a small delegation to Cairo to assist in these negotiations."

According to the Kerry and Ban statement, forces on the ground would remain in place during the ceasefire.

The Palestinian delegation will be comprised of Hamas, Western-backed Fatah, the Islamic Jihad groups and a number of smaller factions, Palestinian officials said.

Egypt's Foreign Ministry said it "stresses the importance the two sides respect their obligations resulting from their announcement of ceasefire so that negotiation can be held in suitable condition and achieve the desired results."

Previous international attempts to broker a humanitarian truce were less successful, securing shorter periods of calm, with some collapsing immediately after being announced.

UN political affairs chief Jeffrey Feltman said it took a massive diplomatic push to achieve the ceasefire.

"The Egyptians played an important role, the Qataris played an essential role in helping bring the parties on board, the Turks were in touch with all sides. This was a collective effort," Feltman told CNN.

Additional reporting by Reuters