Israel-Hamas ceasefire brokered by Egypt goes into effect
MAHMUD HAMS (AFP)
Israel and Hamas have reached a ceasefire agreement brokered by Egypt Thursday night that went into effect at 10:45pm, Al Jazeera reported.
"Since the morning, we have received messages from Hamas through Egypt and the UN envoy Mladenov according to which they want a cease-fire. Despite this, IDF activity continued throughout the day and the cabinet ordered the army to continue to act against terrorist elements in Gaza," an Israeli official said.
The Ministerial Committee on National Security Affairs (security cabinet) meeting ended Thursday night after four hours of discussing the situation in Gaza.
The security cabinet has instructed the IDF "to continue taking strong action against the terrorist elements," according to a statement from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's office.
Meanwhile, Palestinian media reported negotiations between Hamas and Egyptian official in Cairo are in the "advanced" stages, and Egypt is working to restore calm.
Speaking on behalf of a body called the “joint operations room for the Palestinian resistance”, the official announced Thursday that: “The current escalation in Gaza has ended. The resistance responded to the enemy’s crimes in Gaza. The continuation of calm in Gaza depends on the occupation’s behavior.”
According to the Palestinian official, all militant groups had “stopped around 12 noon all the operations, shooting and rockets” and added that “the continued calm now depends on Israel.”
A source with Gaza's Islamist rulers Hamas confirmed the move. However, shortly after the Palestinian statement indicating a cessation of violence, another round rocket sirens sounded across the southern Israeli community of Kibbutz Kissufim signalling incoming projectile.
Since Wednesday evening Palestinian militants in the coastal enclave bombarded Israeli border communities with a salvo of over 200 rockets in total whilst rocket sirens sounded intermittently, prompting Israel to respond forcefully and pound approximately 150 Hamas “military targets” including three attack tunnels and a military facility close to Rafah.
On Thursday, the IDF destroyed a five-story building allegedly housing Hamas' internal security service and offices of the group's senior officials. in response to a rocket fired at Beersheba, nearly 40km from the border with Gaza.
Hamas has denied it launched the rocket at Beersheba, blaming a militant Salafi group in the strip instead.
Three Palestinians, including a pregnant woman and her toddler daughter, were killed and 11 others were injured in Israel's retaliatory strikes in Gaza, the enclave's Hamas-run health ministry said in a statement.
Thirty of rockets were intercepted by the Iron Dome missile defense system, which is activated only against those projected to hit populated areas, whilst the majority of the projectiles fell in open areas.
Eleven Israelis were injured as several rockets fell in the southern Israeli city of Sderot and the Eshkol Regional Council, including a 30-year-old foreign worker from Thailand.
Hamas claimed responsibility for the mortar barrage, saying it came in response to the IDF’s killing of its two operatives on Tuesday.
On Thursday, hours before the Palestinian official announced that the violence had ended, a senior Israeli military official said that the army was “nearing war with Gaza” and would evacuate Israelis living in communities adjacent to the border if necessary.
“We don’t see the end of this escalation. We are closing in on operation in Gaza,” the IDF official said, warning that the army possessed “more capabilities in our arsenal” and was “ready to continue, attacking, attacking and attacking.”
Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman reassured the mayor of Sderot and the heads of the regional councils in the vicinity of the Gaza border that “we will do what needs to be done” to restore calm to region.”
Residents in the border region were instructed by the military to remain within 15-seconds of bomb shelters and to limit the size of public gatherings as rocket attacks continued into Thursday morning.
All trains running between the border town of Sderot and the coastal city of Ashkelon were cancelled and the popular Zikim beach was closed. Farmers were also forbidden from tending to their fields and all children’s summer camps and higher-education activities were cancelled in light of the flare-up.
UN envoy Nickolay Mladenov called on both Israel and Hamas to “step back from the brink” and contain the current escalation before it deteriorates with “devastating consequences for all people.”
The conflagration came as Egypt and UN-led efforts had been underway to reach a long-term ceasefire agreement between Israel and Hamas to bring to an end months of violence along the border and ease tensions in the impoverished Palestinian enclave.
Hamas was due to inform Egypt on Thursday of its response to a multi-phased five-year ceasefire proposal, the London-based Arabic-language al-Asharq al-Awsat daily reported. It remained unclear whether Israel would agree to the three-phased terms of the truce, especially in light of the latest escalation.
Israel and Hamas were brought to the brink of a full-scale war in two separate military flare-ups in July over the cross-border arson attacks as Israel struck targets in response to the attacks, prompting several barrages of Hamas rocket fire and retaliatory Israeli airstrikes that marked some of the fiercest clashes since 2014.
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