Israel on Thursday announced a cease-fire in the bruising 11-day war against Hamas militants that caused widespread destruction in the Gaza Strip and brought life in much of Israel to a standstill.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office announced the cease-fire after a late-night meeting of his Security Cabinet. It said the group had unanimously accepted an Egyptian proposal, though the sides were still determining exactly when it was to take effect.
Senior defense officials, including the military chief of staff and national security adviser, recommended accepting the proposal after claiming “great accomplishments” in the operation, the statement said.
Defense Minister Benny Gantz wrote on Twitter that “the reality in the field will determine the continuation of operations.”
One member of the Security Cabinet said the cease-fire would take effect at 2 a.m., roughly three hours after the announcement. He spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss the closed-door talks.
A 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’ 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.
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.
Since fighting broke out on May 10, 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 more than 4,000 rockets at Israeli cities, with hundreds falling short and most of the rest intercepted.
At least 230 Palestinians have been killed, according to Gaza health officials, while 12 people in Israel have died.
An Egyptian official said Israel had informed his government, which is mediating the truce, that it intended to end its military operations in Gaza.
The official spoke shortly after Egypt’s President Abdul Fattah al-Sisi talked by phone with President Joe Biden. The two leaders discussed ways to stop violence in the Palestinian Territories, Sisi’s office said.
In Washington, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said that the US was trying “to do everything we can to bring an end to the conflict.”
With United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres urging an immediate ceasefire, a UN Mideast envoy was in Qatar to help with efforts to restore calm, a diplomatic official said. Energy-rich Qatar often helps mediate between Israel and Hamas and has donated hundreds of millions of dollars for development and humanitarian projects in Gaza in recent years. The diplomat spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss the matter with the media.
Biden on Wednesday publicly pressed Netanyahu to wind down the operation. The Israeli leader initially pushed back, appearing determined to inflict maximum damage on Hamas in a war that could help save his political career. But that shifted by Thursday evening.
Despite the signs of progress, fighting continued into the evening, with Israeli airstrikes on targets in Gaza and Palestinian militants firing rockets toward Israeli cities.
Earlier on Thursday, explosions shook Gaza City and orange flares lit up the pre-dawn sky, with bombing raids also reported in the central town of Deir al-Balah, and the southern town of Khan Younis. As the sun rose, residents surveyed the rubble from at least five family homes destroyed in Khan Younis. Heavy airstrikes also hit a commercial thoroughfare in Gaza City.
The Israeli military said it struck at least three homes of Hamas commanders in Khan Younis, and another in Rafah, targeting “military infrastructure,” as well as a weapons storage unit at a home in Gaza City.
Visiting the region, German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said Israel has “the right to defend itself against such unacceptable attacks.” But he also expressed concern about the rising number of civilian victims and voiced support for truce efforts.
Even as the diplomatic efforts appeared to gather strength, an Israeli airstrike smashed into the Khawaldi family’s two-story house in Khan Younis, destroying it. The 11 residents, who were sleeping outside the home out of fear, were all hospitalized, said Shaker al-Khozondar, a neighbor.
Shrapnel also hit his own home, killing his aunt and wounding her daughter and two other relatives, he said. Khozondar spoke from the bedroom where his aunt died. The windows were shattered and the bed pillows and rubble stained with blood.
Weam Fares, a spokesman for a nearby hospital, confirmed the death and said at least 10 people were wounded in strikes overnight.
Heavy airstrikes also pummeled a street in the Jabaliya refugee camp in northern Gaza, destroying ramshackle homes with corrugated metal roofs nearby. The military said it struck two underground launchers in the camp used to fire rockets at Tel Aviv.
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 at the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound, a flashpoint site sacred to Jews and Muslims. Heavy-handed police tactics at the compound and the threatened eviction of dozens of Palestinian families by Jewish settlers had inflamed tensions.
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 seized power in 2007.
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.
By Fares Akram and Joseph Krauss/AP