Gaza ceasefire takes effect after Egypt-brokered deal between Israel and Hamas

People gesture near the rubble of a damaged building as Palestinians celebrate in the streets following a ceasefire, in Gaza City May 21, 2021.
People gesture near the rubble of a damaged building as Palestinians celebrate in the streets following a ceasefire, in Gaza City May 21, 2021. © Mohammed Salem, Reuters

A truce between Israel and Hamas began on Friday at the hour set by Egyptian mediators, and US President Joe Biden pledged to salve the devastation of the worst fighting in years with humanitarian aid for Palestinians in the Gaza Strip.


Palestinians, many of whom had spent 11 days huddled in fear of Israeli shelling, poured into Gaza’s streets. Mosque loud-speakers feted “the victory of the resistance achieved over the Occupation (Israel) during the ‘Sword of Jerusalem’ battle".

In the countdown to the 2am (23:00 GMT Thursday) ceasefire, whose timing Hamas had confirmed but Israel did not, Palestinian rocket salvoes continued and Israel carried out at least one air strike.

Each side said it stood ready to retaliate for any truce violations by the other. Cairo said it would send two delegations to monitor the ceasefire.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office confirmed the “mutual and unconditional” ceasefire after a late-night meeting of the Security Cabinet, saying it had unanimously accepted an Egyptian proposal but that the two sides were still determining exactly when it was to take effect.

A Hamas official told Reuters the ceasefire would be “mutual and simultaneous”.

In a televised address on Thursday, Biden welcomed the ceasefire as “a genuine opportunity to make progress” towards lasting peace in the Middle East, and hailed Egypt’s role in brokering the agreement.

He extended condolences to bereaved Israelis and Palestinians and said Washington would work with the United Nations “and other international stakeholders to provide rapid humanitarian assistance” for Gaza and its reconstruction.

Biden said aid would be coordinated with the Palestinian Authority – run by Hamas’s rival, President Mahmoud Abbas, and based in the Israeli-occupied West Bank – “in a manner that does not permit Hamas to simply restock its military arsenal”.

Biden also said the US was committed to helping Israel replenish its supply of interceptor missiles for its Iron Dome protection system and to working with the Palestinian Authority – not Hamas — to provide humanitarian aid to Gaza.

Diplomatic pressure

The US State Department said that Secretary of State Antony Blinken planned to travel to the Middle East “in the coming days”, where he would meet with Israeli, Palestinian, and regional leaders to discuss recovery efforts.

Blinken spoke with his Israeli counterpart Gabi Ashkenazi, who “welcomed Secretary Blinken’s planned travel to the region", State Department spokesman Ned Price said in a statement.

The announcement came after Blinken spoke twice Thursday with Ashkenazi ahead of implementation of the ceasefire, which was brokered by Egypt and followed mounting international pressure to stem the bloodshed.

UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric confirmed earlier in the day that UN Middle East Envoy Tor Wennesland was in Qatar. US President Joe Biden also discussed Gaza with Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi on Thursday, with Press Secretary Jen Psaki saying Washington's “strategic approach" remained "to communicate directly, stay closely interlocked with the Israelis, with partners on the ground, to do everything we can to bring an end to the conflict”. She added that the US had held "more than 80 engagements with senior leaders in Israel, the Palestinian Authority and across the region”.

Germany's foreign minister, Heiko Maas, speaking earlier near Tel Aviv, expressed Germany's "solidarity" with Israel but also called for an end to the fighting. "Israel has the right to defend itself against this massive and unacceptable attack," Maas said. "The number of victims is rising every day and this greatly concerns us."

Civilians exhausted

Since the fighting began on May 10, health officials in Gaza say more than 230 Palestinians, including 65 children and 39 women, have been killed and more than 1,900 wounded in aerial bombardments. Israel says it has 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 have caused panic and sent people rushing into shelters.

Israel said some 4,000 rockets have been launched at it from Gaza, some falling short and others shot down by its Iron Dome air defences.

Civilians on both sides are exhausted by fear and grief, the International Committee of the Red Cross said. "People in Gaza and Israel urgently need respite from non-stop hostilities," said Fabrizio Carboni, regional director for the Middle East.

An international peace process aimed at creating a Palestinian state free of Israeli occupation and guaranteeing Israel's security has been frozen since 2014.

Hamas, regarded by the West as a terrorist organisation, has not been part of the mainstream Palestine Liberation Organisation's engagement with Israel, which led to interim peace deals in the 1990s and the establishment of limited Palestinian self-rule in the occupied West Bank.

(FRANCE 24 with REUTERS and AFP)

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