JERUSALEM: Israel’s ‘security cabinet’ approved a end to military operations in the bruising 11-day hostilities in Gaza Strip on Thursday.

A spokesman for Hamas said the group had decided to accept the ‘ceasefire’.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office announced the ceasefire after a late-night meeting. It said Israel had unanimously accepted an Egyptian proposal, though the sides were still determining exactly when it was to take effect.

According to some officials, the ceasefire will take effect at 2am local time on Friday (2300 GMT Thursday).

Senior Israeli officials, including the military chief of staff and national security adviser, recommended accepting the Egyptian proposal after claiming “great accomplishments” in the operation, the statement said.

The political leaders emph­a­sised that the “reality on the ground” would determine the future of the campaign, the statement said.

Shortly after the annou­ncement, air-raid sirens indicating incoming rocket fire sounded in southern Israel.

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 fighting began on May 10, when Hamas militants in Gaza fired long-range rockets toward Jerusalem after days of clashes between Palestinian protesters and Israeli police at the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound, a flashpoint site sacred to Jews and Muslims. Heavy-handed police tactics at the compound and the threatened eviction of dozens of Palestinian families by Jewish settlers had inflamed tensions.

Israel launched hundreds of airstrikes during the operation, targeting what it said was Hamas military 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 were killed, including 65 children and 39 women, while 1,710 people were wounded, according to the Gaza health ministry, which does not break the numbers down into fighters and civilians.

Hamas and the militant group Islamic Jihad said at least 20 of their fighters have been killed, while Israel said the number is at least 130. Some 58,000 Palestinians have fled their homes, many of them seeking shelter in crowded U.N. schools at a time of a raging coronavirus outbreak.

Twelve people in Israel, including a five-year-old boy, a 16-year-old girl and a soldier, were killed.

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 seized power in 2007.

Israel considers Hamas to be a terrorist group and Hamas government is not internationally recognised.

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 18 hospitals and clinics and destroyed one health facility, the World Health Organisation said. Nearly half of all essential drugs have run out.

US President Joe Biden had publicly pressed the Israeli prime minister on Wednesday to wind down the operation. The Israeli leader initially pushed back, appearing determined to inflict maximum damage on Hamas in a war that could help save his political career. But by Thursday evening, Israeli media were reporting that a ceasefire agreement was expected to take effect by early Friday.

Despite progress on the diplomatic front, fighting continued on Thursday, with Israeli airstrikes on targets in Gaza and Palestinian militants firing rockets toward Israeli cities. In past rounds of violence, fighting has picked up in the final hours, with each side trying to eke out a final achievement before a cease-fire went into effect.

Explosions shook Gaza City and orange flares lit up the pre-dawn sky, with bombing raids also reported in the central town of Deir al-Balah and the southern town of Khan Younis.

Published in Dawn, May 21st, 2021

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