A ceasefire agreed to by Israel and Hamas went into effect early Friday morning, 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 late Thursday night after a meeting of his security cabinet. Hamas quickly followed suit and said it would honour the deal.
At 2 a.m. local time, just as the ceasefire took effect, frenzied life returned to the streets of Gaza. People went out of their homes, some shouting “Allahu Akbar” or whistling from balconies. Many fired in the air, celebrating the truce.
As with the three previous wars between the bitter enemies, the latest round of fighting ended inconclusively. Israel claimed to inflict heavy damage on Hamas but once again was unable to halt the Islamic militant group’s nonstop rocket barrages.
Almost immediately, Netanyahu faced angry accusations from his hard-line, right-wing base that he stopped the operation too soon.
In a statement, his 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.
Hamas, the Islamic militant group sworn to Israel’s destruction, also claimed victory. But it now faces the daunting challenge of rebuilding in a territory already suffering from poverty, widespread unemployment and a raging coronavirus outbreak.
“The Palestinian resistance will commit itself to this deal as long as the occupation is committed,” Taher Nounou, a Hamas official, 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.
WATCH | Celebrating the ceasefire:
Following the announcement, U.S. President Joe Biden praised both sides for reaching the deal.
“I believe the Palestinians and Israelis equally deserve to live safely and securely and to enjoy equal measures of freedom, prosperity and democracy,” Biden said from the White House.
He said his administration will continue its quiet diplomacy to that end.
Foreign Affairs Minister Marc Garneau tweeted that Canada welcomes the ceasefire, while calling for “a renewed commitment to peace.”
Canada welcomes news of a ceasefire in Gaza and Israel. We are appalled by the tragic loss of life and urge all sides to further de-escalate tensions. Canada calls for a renewed commitment to peace and stands ready to support efforts towards a two-state solution.
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.
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 five-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.
The United States, Israel’s closest and most important ally, initially backed what it said was Israel’s right to self-defence against indiscriminate rocket fire. But as the fighting dragged on and the death toll mounted, the Americans increasingly pressured Israel to stop the offensive.
In a rare public rift, Netanyahu on Wednesday briefly rebuffed a public call from Biden to wind things down, appearing determined to inflict maximum damage on Hamas in a war that could help save his political career.
Netanyahu faces criticism
Following news of the ceasefire, Netanyahu quickly came under heavy criticism from members of his base. Gideon Saar, a former ally who now leads a small party opposed to the prime minister, called the ceasefire “embarrassing.”
In a potentially damaging development for the Israeli leader, the Palestinian militants claimed Netanyahu had agreed to halt further Israeli actions at the Al Aqsa Mosque and to call off the planned evictions of Palestinians in the nearby Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood.
An Egyptian official said only that tensions in Jerusalem “will be addressed.” He spoke on condition of anonymity because he was discussing behind-the-scenes negotiations and provided no details.
Itamar Ben Gvir, head of the far-right Jewish Power party, tweeted that the ceasefire was “a grave surrender to terrorism and the dictates of Hamas.”
WATCH | Israel, Hamas reach ceasefire:
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.