Israel and Hamas will cease fire across the Gaza Strip border as of Friday, the Palestinian Islamist faction and Egyptian state TV said, bringing a potentially tenuous halt to the fiercest fighting in years.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office said his security cabinet had voted unanimously in favour of a “mutual and unconditional” Gaza truce proposed by Egypt, but added that the hour of implementation had yet to be agreed.
Hamas and Egypt said the truce would begin at 2 a.m. (2300 GMT Thursday), after 11 days of Israeli-Palestinian hostilities.
Within minutes of the announcements, in the countdown to the ceasefire, the sides were trading blows again. Sirens warned of incoming rockets in Israeli border communities, and a Reuters reporter heard an air strike in Gaza. A man in his 50s was lightly hurt in a direct hit on an Israeli factory, medics said.
Amid growing global alarm at the bloodshed, U.S. President Joe Biden urged Netanyahu on Wednesday to seek de-escalation, while Egypt, Qatar and the United Nations sought to mediate.
Biden was due to deliver remarks on the Middle East around 5:45 p.m. Washington time (2145 GMT), the White House said.
Hamas said the ceasefire would be “mutual and simultaneous”.
“The Palestinian resistance will abide by this agreement as long as the Occupation (Israel) does the same,” Taher Al-Nono, media adviser to Hamas chief Ismail Haniyeh, told Reuters.
Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi had ordered two security delegations into Israel and the Palestinian Territories to work towards upholding the ceasefire, Egyptian state TV reported.
In a televised speech Abu Ubaida, spokesman of the Hamas armed wing, said: “With the help of God, we were able to humiliate the enemy, its fragile entity and its savage army.”
Smoke rises following an Israeli air strike, amid Israeli-Palestinian fighting, in Gaza, May 20, 2021. REUTERS/Ibraheem Abu Mustafa
He threatened Hamas rocket fire that would reach throughout Israel if it violated the truce or struck Gaza before the hour of implementation.
Rocket attacks by Hamas and the allied Islamic Jihad had resumed after an eight-hour pause earlier on Thursday, as Israel pursued shelling that it said aimed to destroy the factions’ military capabilities and deter them from future confrontations after the current conflict.
Israeli Defence Minister Benny Gantz said on Twitter that the Gaza offensive had yielded “unprecedented military gains”.
Speaking to his U.S. counterpart Lloyd Austin, Gantz said Israel’s defence establishment would “continue to work closely and in full cooperation with the Pentagon and the U.S. administration to stabilise the region,” Gantz’s office said.
Since the fighting began on May 10, health officials in Gaza said 232 Palestinians, including 65 children, had been killed and more than 1,900 wounded in aerial bombardments. Israel said it had killed at least 160 combatants in Gaza.
Authorities put the death toll in Israel at 12, with hundreds of people treated for injuries in rocket attacks that caused panic and sent people rushing into shelters.
The violence was triggered by Palestinian anger at what they saw as Israeli curbs on their rights in Jerusalem, including during police confrontations with protesters at Al-Aqsa mosque.
Hamas previously demanded that any halt to the Gaza fighting be accompanied by Israeli drawdowns in Jerusalem. An Israeli official told Reuters there was no such condition in the truce.
“The only way there’ll be a Hamas-Jerusalem linkage is if they agree to us drowning them on ‘Jerusalem Beach’ in Tel Aviv,” security cabinet minister Tzachi Hanegbi told Israel’s top-rated Channel 12 TV earlier on Thursday.
Biden discussed Gaza with Sisi and the White House said reports of moves toward a ceasefire were “encouraging”. Hamas is deemed a terrorist group in the West and by Israel, which it refuses to recognise.
The United Nations said its Middle East envoy, Tor Wennesland, was in Qatar on Thursday as part of truce efforts.
In related developments
U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders introduced a resolution blocking a $735 million weapons sale to Israel on Thursday, mirroring a symbolic action by the House of Representatives in response to conflict between Israel and Gaza’s Hamas leaders.
“At a moment when U.S.-made bombs are devastating Gaza, and killing women and children, we cannot simply let another huge arms sale go through without even a congressional debate,” said Sanders, an independent who votes with Democrats.
Democratic President Joe Biden’s administration approved the potential sale of $735 million in weapons to Israel this year, and sent it to Congress on May 5 for formal review.
The Democratic and Republican leaders of the Senate Foreign Relations and House Foreign Affairs committees all backed the sale during an informal review before May 5. And lawmakers predicted efforts to stop the sale would fail, given traditionally strong bipartisan support in both the House and Senate for arms sales to Israel.
Senator Bob Menendez, the Democratic chairman of Senate Foreign Relations, said he would oppose the Sanders resolution. He also said he was not certain that Sanders had filed it within a required 15-day period.
“I can’t imagine that passing,” Senator Jim Risch, the committee’s top Republican, told reporters.
The clashes have prompted calls from some lawmakers for a more concerted U.S. effort to stop the violence, including Israeli airstrikes that have killed dozens of civilians, most of them Palestinians in the besieged Gaza Strip.
Sanders, a former candidate for Democratic presidential nomination, said Americans need to take a “hard look” at whether the weapons sales fuel conflict between Israel and Palestinians.
His resolution follows a measure introduced by U.S. Representatives Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Mark Pocan and Rashida Tlaib, which has at least six other co-sponsors, including some of the most left-leaning Democrats in the House.