Smoke rises after Israeli air strikes on Rafah, in the southern Gaza Strip, on 17 May 2021/AFP

Israel and the two main Palestinian armed groups in Gaza, Hamas and Islamic Jihad, announced a ceasefire on Thursday aimed to end the most devastating conflict between them for seven years.

The truce brokered by Egypt was announced following mounting international pressure to end 11 days of conflict that has claimed lives on both sides, with Israeli jets pounding Gaza with air strikes as militants fired thousands of rockets towards Israel.

A statement from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office said the security cabinet had “unanimously accepted the recommendation of all of the security officials… to accept the Egyptian initiative for a mutual ceasefire without pre-conditions, to take effect at a time to be determined”.

Hamas and Islamic Jihad then confirmed the ceasefire in a statement, saying it would come into force at 2:00 am Friday (2300 GMT Thursday).

The Israeli statement said its aerial campaign in Gaza had made “unprecedented” achievements.

“The political leadership emphasises that it is the reality on the ground that will determine the future of the operation,” it added.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Thursday he would be “prepared at any time to go to Israel, to the Middle East, if that would serve the purpose of moving beyond the violence and helping to work on improving lives for Israelis and Palestinians alike”.

Egypt to monitor

Fighting erupted on May 10 after days of tensions in Jerusalem sharply escalated.

The Israeli army said Hamas and other Islamist armed groups in Gaza have fired more than 4,300 rockets towards Israel, but the overwhelming majority of those headed for populated areas were intercepted by its Iron Dome air defences.

The rockets have claimed 12 lives in Israel, including two children and an Israeli soldier, with one Indian and two Thai nationals among those killed, the police say.

Israeli strikes on Gaza have killed 232 Palestinians, including 65 children, fighters and another 1,900 wounded, according to the Gaza health ministry, leaving vast areas in rubble and displacing some 120,000 people, according to Hamas authorities.

Diplomatic sources told AFP in Cairo that “two Egyptian delegations will be dispatched to Tel Aviv and the Palestinian territories to monitor its (the ceasefire) implementation and procedures to maintain stable conditions permanently.”

Earlier Thursday in the southern Gaza town of Rafah, an AFP reporter saw devastating Israeli air strikes turn buildings into clouds of dust and rubble as an ambulance sped across town to help the wounded.

Rocket fire from Gaza had intensified in the afternoon, sending Israelis nearby running for shelters, according to Israeli army warnings.

News of the ceasefire deal came after US President Joe Biden called for a “significant de-escalation”.

‘Intense’ negotiations

The truce was also announced as German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas was visiting the region.

Speaking earlier Thursday near Tel Aviv, he expressed Germany’s “solidarity” with Israel, but also called for an end to the fighting.

“Israel has the right to defend itself against this massive and unacceptable attack,” Maas said of the rockets Hamas first fired on May 10 after violent clashes between Israeli police and Palestinians in Jerusalem’s Al-Aqsa mosque compound.

Israel has said its forces at Al-Aqsa were reacting in response to Palestinian stone throwing.

Overnight Wednesday-Thursday, Israel had continued to pound Gaza with air strikes and artillery fire aimed at destroying Hamas tunnels and other infrastructure, the military said.

‘Sitting in his wheelchair’

One Israeli strike on Gaza on Wednesday killed a disabled man, his pregnant wife and their three-year-old child, the enclave’s health ministry said.

“What did my brother do?” the man’s bereaved brother Omar Saleha, 31, told AFP. “He was just sitting in his wheelchair”.

Israel says it takes all steps to avoid civilian casualties, including by phoning residents to warn them of imminent strikes, and blames Hamas for placing weapons and military sites in densely populated areas.

The United States, a key Israel ally, had repeatedly blocked any joint UN Security Council statement calling for a halt to hostilities, including one proposed by France, saying it could undermine de-escalation efforts.

Israel’s bombing campaign has left the two million people of Gaza, which has been under Israeli blockade for 14 years, desperate for relief.

The military conflict has sharply heightened tensions and sparked violence between Jews and Arab-Israelis, while Palestinian protesters in the West Bank and east Jerusalem have repeatedly clashed with security forces.

In the West Bank, the army has killed 25 Palestinians since the outbreak of hostilities. The worst death toll in years in the occupied Palestinian territory includes several Palestinians who the Israeli army said had attempted to ram or stab Israeli forces at checkpoints.


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