Israel, Hamas say ceasefire will begin early Friday after 11 days of fighting


Israel and Hamas announced a ceasefire late Thursday, ending a bruising 11-day war that caused widespread destruction in the Gaza Strip and brought life in much of Israel to a standstill.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office said Israel accepted the Egyptian proposal after a late-night meeting of his security cabinet. Hamas quickly followed suit and said it would honour the deal.

Egypt’s state-run MENA news agency said the truce would take effect at 2 a.m., roughly three hours after the announcement.

In a statement, Netanyahu’s office said the security cabinet unanimously approved the proposal after recommendations from the military chief of staff and other top defence officials. The statement boasted of “significant achievements in the operation, some of which are unprecedented” and included a veiled threat against Hamas.

“The political leaders emphasized that the reality on the ground will determine the future of the campaign,” the statement said.

Smoke trails are seen in the background as Israel’s Iron Dome anti-missile system fires to intercept rockets launched today from the Gaza Strip towards Israel. (Baz Ratner/Reuters)

Taher Nounou, a Hamas official, confirmed the deal. “The Palestinian resistance will commit itself to this deal as long as the occupation is committed,” he said.

Another Hamas official said the declaration of a truce was a defeat for Netanyahu and “a victory to the Palestinian people.”

Ali Barakeh, a member of Hamas’s Arab and Islamic relations bureau, told The Associated Press that the militants will remain on alert until they hear from mediators. Once Hamas hears from mediators, the group’s leadership will hold discussions and make an announcement, he said.

Shortly after the announcement, air-raid sirens indicating incoming rocket fire sounded in southern Israel.

A Palestinian woman works on Thursday in the kitchen of a house in Gaza damaged in an Israeli airstrike. (Mohammed Salem/Reuters)

Heaviest fighting in years

The agreement would close the heaviest round of fighting between the bitter enemies since a 50-day war in 2014, and once again there was no clear winner. Israel inflicted heavy damage on Hamas but was unable to prevent the rocket fire that has disrupted life for millions of Israelis for more than a decade.

The current round of fighting between Israel and Hamas began May 10, when the militant group fired long-range rockets toward Jerusalem after days of clashes between Palestinian protesters and Israeli police. A focal point of the clashes was the Al-Aqsa Mosque, part of a holy site in Jerusalem’s Old City revered by Muslims and Jews. Police tactics at the compound and the threatened eviction of dozens of Palestinian families by Jewish settlers had inflamed tensions.

Since then, Israel has launched hundreds of airstrikes that it says have targeted Hamas’ infrastructure, including a vast tunnel network. Hamas and other militant groups embedded in residential areas have fired over 4,000 rockets at Israeli cities, with hundreds falling short and most of the rest intercepted.

German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas, right, and Israeli Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi visit the site of a rocket attack in the central Israeli city of Petah Tikvah today. (Sebastian Scheiner/The Associated Press)

At least 230 Palestinians have been killed, including 65 children and 39 women, with 1,710 people wounded, according to the Gaza Health Ministry, which does not break the numbers down into fighters and civilians. Hamas and militant group Islamic Jihad say at least 20 of their fighters have been killed, while Israel says the number is at least 130. Some 58,000 Palestinians have fled their homes.

Twelve people in Israel, including a 5-year-old boy, a 16-year-old girl and a soldier, have been killed. The military said an anti-tank missile fired from Gaza hit an empty bus near the frontier on Thursday, lightly wounding an Israeli soldier.

Since the fighting began, Gaza’s infrastructure, already weakened by a 14-year blockade, has rapidly deteriorated. Medical supplies, water and fuel for electricity are running low in the territory, on which Israel and Egypt imposed the blockade after Hamas consolidated its control over Gaza in 2007.

Israel considers Hamas, an Islamic militant group that seeks Israel’s destruction, to be a terrorist group. Hamas’s government is not internationally recognized.

Israeli bombing has damaged over 50 schools across the territory, according to advocacy group Save the Children, completely destroying at least six. While repairs are done, education will be disrupted for nearly 42,000 children.

Israeli attacks have also damaged at least 18 hospitals and clinics and destroyed one health facility, the World Health Organization said. Nearly half of all essential drugs have run out.

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