Israel's retaliatory air strikes on Gaza have been "deliberately disproportionate" and amount to "collective punishment", Britain's Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg said on Thursday, in unusually robust criticism of a close British ally.
Clegg made his comments on the tenth day of fighting between Israel and Hamas during a five-hour humanitarian truce which prompted a temporary halt to Israel's and Hamas' air strikes.
"I really do think now the Israeli response appears to be deliberately disproportionate, it is amounting now to a disproportionate form of collective punishment," Clegg, the leader of the Liberal Democrats, the junior partner in the country's coalition, told Britain's LBC radio station.
"I really would now call on the Israel Government to stop. They've proved their point," he said. He said he respected Israel's right to defend itself.
Clegg's comments come after an Israeli official said Thursday Tel Aviv had agreed on a ceasefire with Hamas that will begin at 0300 GMT Friday, but the Palestinian group said it had "no information" on a deal.
Speaking on condition of anonymity, the Israeli official told AFP that Israel and Hamas "have agreed upon a ceasefire that will begin at 6:00am Gaza local time tomorrow."
Hamas refused to confirm the report, with spokesman Fawzi Barhum telling AFP: "We have no information about this agreement."
Gaza health officials say at least 230 Palestinians, mostly civilians, have been killed in the fighting. In Israel, one civilian has been killed by rocket fire from Gaza.
The current conflict was largely triggered by the killing of three Israeli settlers in the occupied West Bank last month and the killing on July 2 of a Palestinian youth in a revenge murder.