Israel and the Palestinian militant group Hamas have agreed to a ceasefire, after more than a week of conflict left hundreds dead, most of them Palestinians. The truce signals an end to the immediate bloodshed, but will likely leave both sides further apart than ever.
Over 11 days, the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) carried out a devastating aerial bombardment of Gaza, while the Palestinian militant group Hamas fired thousands of rockets into Israel, in violence that has underscored how elusive a longer term peace agreement has become.
Israeli airstrikes killed 232 Palestinians, including 65 children, according to the Hamas-run health ministry there. At least 12 people in Israel, including two children, have been killed by Palestinian militant fire from Gaza, according to the IDF and Israel’s emergency service.
A senior Hamas leader told CNN that the truce, under terms brokered by Egypt, would commence at 2am local time on Friday.
“The Security Cabinet convened this evening. And accepted unanimously the recommendation of all security elements — the Chief of Staff, the head of the Shin Bet, the Head of the Mossad, and the head of the National Security Council — to accept the Egyptian initiative for a mutual unconditional ceasefire that will go into effect at an hour to be agreed upon later,” read the statement from the office of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Celebrations of the truce could be seen in Gaza and Tel Aviv following the announcement. In the early hours of Friday morning, a CNN reporter could see cars honking in the streets in joy, while a voice broadcast from a nearby mosque praised God.
In Tel Aviv, the news drew a mix of reactions, from relief to skepticism.
“I think its good the ceasefire is good for humanitarian reasons to let civilians relax a little bit on both sides. I am skeptical though that it will really be kept for a while,” said 22-year-old Tzvika Geft to Reuters.
“I don’t think Israel has achieved much. I mean there no … no agreements about the future, nothing. But I guess good to have a bit of break.”
News of the ceasefire came with a flurry of parting shots; just moments after the ceasefire was announced and before it formally began, sirens warning of rocket attacks sounded yet again in towns and villages in Israel close to the Gaza Strip.
Since the conflict began, Palestinian militants have fired more than 4,000 rockets into Israel, according to the IDF. Many have been intercepted by Israel’s Iron Dome defense system. The longest lull in rocket fire from Gaza — of more than eight hours — took place overnight into Thursday, while Israeli military action continued.
The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) meanwhile have carried out a devastating aerial bombardment of Gaza, targeting Hamas’ vast tunnel network and other infrastructure. Some 72,000 Gazans have been displaced, UNICEF said Wednesday.
The Israeli Prime Minister’s Office made clear Thursday that its military will be instructed to re-start its campaign against militant groups in Gaza if they are deemed to be failing to keep their side of the agreement.
“The political leadership emphasizes that the reality on the ground will determine any decision to resume the military campaign,” the statement said.
The truce follows a whirlwind of diplomatic attempts to push for a ceasefire. US President Joe Biden and his administration had dialed up messaging on Israel over the past few days, including in Biden’s fourth call with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Wednesday.
In hastily arranged remarks from the White House delivered one hour before the truce was due to take effect, the US President credited his administration’s own “quiet and relentless diplomacy,” along with efforts by Egypt, in arriving at the agreement.
“We’ve held intensive high-level discussions, hour-by-hour, literally, (with) Egypt, the Palestinian Authority and other Middle Eastern countries with an aim of avoiding the sort of prolonged conflict we’ve seen in previous years when the hostilities have broken out,” Biden said.
Biden did not become more combative with his Israeli counterpart until recent days, when he bluntly told Netanyahu the violence needed to stop. But he did so privately, and hardly addressed the situation in person during the 11 days it raged on.
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres also welcomed the ceasefire between Israel and Hamas, but said more remained to be done. Guterres told reporters he wants a return to negotiations between Israel and Palestinians, and called for robust humanitarian aid distribution to residents in Gaza.
“I stress that Israeli and Palestinian leaders have a responsibility beyond the restoration of calm to start a serious dialogue to address the root causes of the conflict. Gaza is an integral part of the future Palestinian state and no effort should be spared to bring about real national reconciliation that ends the division,” he said.
The Secretary-General had earlier called for an immediate ceasefire in an impassioned speech in New York. “If there is a hell on Earth, it is the lives of children in Gaza today,” he said, according to a transcript of his remarks.
Hostilities between Israel and Hamas erupted after weeks of tension in Jerusalem, where a group of Palestinian families faced eviction from their homes in East Jerusalem in favour of Jewish nationalists.
In addition, during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, there were a series of incidents that Palestinians saw as highly provocative, including the closing of a popular meeting place near the Old City, and the entrance of Israeli police into the Al Aqsa mosque on a number of occasions. There were regular clashes in and around the mosque compound during which police fired stun grenades and rubber-coated bullets while Palestinians threw stones.
Hundreds of Palestinians and some Israeli police officers were injured in the unrest.