Ceasefire begins between Israel and Hamas

A ceasefire between Israel and Hamas, the Palestinian militant group, came into force early on Friday ending an 11-day conflict that has killed at least 232 Palestinians and 12 Israelis.

The Egypt-mediated truce triggered celebrations on the streets of Hamas-controlled Gaza, as the worst fighting in seven years came to a close.

But an official with the militant group warned that it had its “hand on the trigger”, calling for Israel to end violence in Jerusalem and to address the widespread damage in Gaza, Reuters reported.

In a statement late on Thursday, Israel’s security cabinet held out the possibility that its military strikes could resume, saying: “The political leadership emphasises that it is the reality on the ground that will determine the future of the operation.”

Israeli planes and aircraft remained in the skies over Gaza ahead of the ceasefire deadline in the early hours of Friday to deter Hamas from launching a large-scale volley ahead of the ceasefire, the Israeli army said. Small salvos continued as the clock counted down, it said. Israel has now lifted all restrictions on movement near the Gaza Strip.

The truce came after the US stepped up pressure on Israel to end its bombardment of Gaza. Israeli premier Benjamin Netanyahu initially resisted, but Israel’s security cabinet on Thursday voted unanimously in favour of a “mutual and unconditional” Gaza ceasefire.

“I commended him for the decision to bring the current hostilities to a close within less than 11 days,” US President Joe Biden said on Thursday after speaking to Netanyahu for the sixth time since the conflict started.

Biden said his administration had held “intensive high-level discussions, hour by hour, literally” in recent days with the aim of avoiding the sort of drawn-out conflict that has characterised past fighting between Israel and Hamas. The 2014 war between Israel and Hamas lasted seven weeks and killed more than 2,000 Palestinians and 73 Israelis, mostly soldiers.

Taher al-Nono, media adviser to Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh, said: “The Palestinian resistance will commit with this agreement as long as the occupation does.”

The ceasefire comes after Israeli warplanes and artillery attacked Gaza for more than a week, targeting Hamas militants but causing huge destruction across the densely populated strip which is home to 2m people. At least 104 women and children have been killed in Gaza, according to Palestinian health officials.

Hamas, which fought three wars with Israel between 2009 and 2014, fired more than 3,700 rockets targeting cities and towns across Israel, and two Israeli children were killed.

The latest conflict began on May 10 after weeks of tensions in and around Jerusalem. It also sparked communal unrest between minority Arab Israelis and Jews, a rarity that unsettled political leaders and wider society in Israel, and widespread unrest in the occupied West Bank.

The ceasefire agreed late on Thursday was brokered by Egypt, which has mediated along with the US and Qatar. Cairo said it would send two security delegations to Tel Aviv and the Palestinian territories to follow up on implementation measures.

As part of the negotiations, a regional official said Hamas had wanted an end to the expulsion of Palestinian families from the Sheikh Jarrah neighbourhood of occupied East Jerusalem, a move that helped trigger the 11 days of violence; an end to curbs around al-Aqsa mosque, Islam’s third holiest site; and to ease the delivery of aid and reconstruction materials into Gaza. The mosque lies in a Jerusalem compound — known to Muslims as the Haram ash-Sharif, or Noble Sanctuary, and to Jews as Temple Mount — that is sacred to both religions. Palestinian officials have called for protests across the occupied territories and in Israel on Friday.

Biden said the US would help Israel replenish its Iron Dome missile defence system, which he said had “saved lives of countless Israeli citizens, of Arab and Jew”. He said the US would also support reconstruction of Gaza in partnership with the Palestinian Authority, “not Hamas”, in a manner that would prevent the militant group from restocking its military arsenal.

“I believe the Palestinians and Israelis equally deserve to live safely and securely, and to enjoy equal measures of freedom, prosperity, and democracy,” he said.

António Guterres, the UN secretary-general, on Thursday described Gaza as “hell on earth” for children. “The hostilities have caused serious damage to vital civilian infrastructure in Gaza, including roads and electricity lines, contributing to a humanitarian emergency,” he told the UN General Assembly.

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