Last Update 18:6
Wednesday, 28 July 2021

Israel, Hamas ceasefire comes into force

A highly anticipated ceasefire between Israel and the Islamist Hamas militants who run the Palestinian Gaza Strip officially came into force early Friday at 2:00am (2300GMT Thursday).

AFP , Friday 21 May 2021
Palestinians celebrate in Ramallah AFP
Palestinians celebrate in Ramallah city center in support of the resistance in Gaza, after the cease-fire between the Palestinians and Israel late in the early hours of May 21, 2021, in Ramallah, in the Israeli-occupied West Bank. (AFP)
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A ceasefire between Israel and Hamas, the Islamist movement which controls the Gaza Strip, came into force early Friday after 11 days of deadly fighting that pounded the Palestinian enclave and forced countless Israelis to seek shelter from rockets.

Celebrations were heard on Gaza streets in the minutes after the truce began as cars honked their horns and some guns were fired in the air, AFP journalists said, while no alerts were sounded to warn of Hamas rockets being fired into Israel.

The ceasefire brokered by Egypt, that also included Gaza's second-most powerful armed group, Islamic Jihad, was agreed following mounting international pressure to stem the bloodshed which erupted on May 10.

US President Joe Biden welcomed the deal.

"I believe we have a genuine opportunity to make progress and I'm committed to working toward it," Biden said at the White House, hailing Egypt's role in brokering the agreement.

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".

Hamas and Islamic Jihad also confirmed the ceasefire in statements.

The Israeli statement said its aerial campaign had made "unprecedented" achievements in Gaza, a territory it has blockaded since 2007, the year of Hamas's takeover.

"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 earlier this month after weeks of tensions in Jerusalem, notably over planned evictions of Palestinians from their homes in east Jerusalem to make way for Jewish settlers, and clashes at the sensitive Al-Aqsa mosque compound.

The Israeli occupation army said Hamas and other Islamist armed groups in Gaza have since 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, as well as fighters, and have wounded another 1,900, according to the Gaza health ministry.

Vast areas have been reduced to rubble and some 120,000 people have been displaced, 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."

UN chief Antonio Guterres, who also welcomed the deal, said Israel and the Palestinians now had a responsibility to have "a serious dialogue to address the root causes of the conflict."

He also called on the international community to work with the UN on a "robust package of support for a swift, sustainable reconstruction and recovery".

Britain also welcomed the ceasefire, with the UK Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab saying: "All sides must work to make the ceasefire durable and end the unacceptable cycle of violence."

- 'Stay home' -

Before Israeli officials met Thursday to approve the ceasefire proposal, rocket fire had continued towards southern communities near the Gaza border.

The Israeli army had ordered the area's residents to stay in their homes "until further notice."

Shortly after the truce was announced, Islamic Jihad boasted it had "managed to humiliate" Israel.

The group also vowed to remain the defender of Palestinians in Jerusalem, holy to both Muslims and Jews.

Netanyahu said the campaign set Hamas and Islamic Jihad back "many years".

Palestinian and international groups accused Israel of recklessly hitting non-military sites during the campaign.

The unrest also 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.

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