Israel, Hamas agree to cease-fire after hundreds killed in Gaza
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Thursday announced a cease-fire to halt an 11-day military operation against Hamas militants in the Gaza Strip.
Israel’s cabinet agreed “to accept the Egyptian initiative for a bilateral cease-fire without any conditions, which will take effect later,” Netanyahu’s office said in a statement.
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.
The development followed growing U.S. and international pressure on Israel to call off a military operation that pounded the Gaza Strip with airstrikes. Hamas fired rockets indiscriminately into civilian areas in Israel. At least 230 Palestinians, including 65 children were killed, and 12 Israelis, including two children.
“These hostilities have resulted in the tragic deaths of so many civilians,” President Joe Biden said at the White House after the cease-fire was announced. He hailed the truce and credited the Egyptian President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi for his role in brokering the deal.
“We remain committed to working with the United Nations and other international stakeholders to provide rapid humanitarian assistance … for the people of Gaza,” he said, adding that the U.S. would also help with reconstruction efforts in coordination with other countries.
Israel described the truce as “mutual and unconditional.”
But hostilities between the two sides remained high. Even as the cease-fire was confirmed, Israel’s Defense Forces said sirens alerting Israeli residents of Hamas rocket fire were sounding in the south of the country. And they were still negotiating exactly when it would take effect. Multiple reports said the truce was to go into effect at 2 a.m. Friday morning local time (7 p.m. ET) – just over three hours after the cabinet’s decision.
Hamas leader Osama Hamdan appeared to confirm that timeframe.
The UN’s Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said the next step would be to “stabilize the cease-fire” and launch a “swift, sustainable reconstruction and recovery” effort 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,” Guterres said.
The agreement for a truce came a day after Biden pressed Netanyahu to de-escalate the conflict and move toward a cease-fire. Biden’s appeal to Netanyahu reportedly strengthened Egypt’s efforts to negotiate a ceasefire.
Biden quietly ramped up pressure on Israel in recent days as he faced mounting international alarm over the rising death toll and growing demands from some Democrats in Congress for a cease-fire or a reduction in aid to Israel.
In his remarks Thursday, Biden said the cease-fire deal opened an opportunity to seek a broader peace agreement amid the parties.
“My administration will continue our quiet, relentless diplomacy toward that end,” he said. I believe we have a genuine opportunity to make progress and I’m committed to working for it.”
But the president reiterated his staunch support for Israel’s campaign against Hamas, which the U.S. considers a terrorist group.
Biden said he spoke with Netanyahu after the cease-fire was reached, and in the conversation, the Israeli leader expressed “his appreciation for the Iron Dome system, which our nations developed together and which has saved the lives of countless Israeli citizens, both Arab and Jew.”
Biden said he assured Netanyahu of his “full support” to replenish the Iron Dome system and ensure Israel’s ability to defend itself against future attacks.
The violence wreaked far more devastation in Gaza than in Israel, with an estimated 58,000 Palestinians displaced from their homes and untold damage to the territory’s infrastructure, which was already dilapidated by a 14-year blockade.
Israeli attacks damaged at least 18 hospitals and clinics and destroyed one health facility, according to the World Health Organization. WHO officials also said the central COVID-19 testing lab in Gaza City was almost totally destroyed, and the violence caused “severe restrictions” on the delivery of medical supplies.
In Gaza City, which has borne the brunt of Israel’s military assault, Ali Al-Gharably said that conditions are extremely difficult for families such as his.
The 36-year-old said he fled his home a week ago with his children because of Israeli artillery fire and they have since been living temporarily in a school.
“The UN brought us some food and water but we left our home with nothing. We hope the war ends soon so we can go back home,” he said. “My children don’t even have enough clothes to wear. We didn’t even have time to put on our shoes.”
The fighting between Israel and Hamas began after the militant group fired rockets toward Jerusalem after days of clashes between Palestinian protesters and Israeli police.
Among the triggers for the violence: an effort by Jewish settlers to evict Palestinian families from their homes in East Jerusalem, followed by confrontations between Israeli police and Palestinian protesters near at the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound, a site sacred to Jews and Muslims.
Hamas, which controls Gaza, fired thousands of rockets at civilian targets in Israel. The stream of rocket shower sent many Israelis scrambling to safety in bomb shelters, although the vast majority of the weapons were intercepted by Israel’s sophisticated Iron Dome missile defense system.
Israel responded with its own fusillade of missiles aimed at degrading Hamas’ military capability and killing its leaders. Gaza is home to approximately two million Palestinians.
Dennis Ross, a former Middle East envoy under President Bill Clinton, told The Jerusalem Post, that he didn’t expect a cease-fire to last for long and that any agreement would effectively be “short-term calm” while Hamas still controls Gaza. Ross urged the international community to link humanitarian aid to Hamas demilitarization.
Contributing: Akram Elloh for USA TODAY; Associated Press
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Israel, Hamas cease-fire to take effect, ending fighting in Gaza