Israel, Hamas agree to cease-fire to end 11-day war

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GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip (NewsNation Now) — Israel and Hamas will cease fire across the Gaza Strip border as of 2 a.m. Friday local time, a Hamas official and Israeli media said, bringing a potentially tenuous halt to the fiercest fighting in decades.

At 2 a.m. local time, just as the cease-fire took effect, frenzy life returned to the streets of Gaza. People went out of their homes, some shouting “Allahu Akbar” or whistling from balconies. Many fired in the air, celebrating the truce.

Israel’s security cabinet said it had voted unanimously in favor of a “mutual and unconditional” Gaza truce proposed by mediator Egypt, but added that the hour of implementation had yet to be agreed.

Palestinians chant slogans as they wave green Hamas and their national flags while celebrating the cease-fire agreement between Israel and Hamas in Gaza City, early Friday, May 21, 2021. (AP Photo/Adel Hana)

Thousands took to the streets of Gaza as the cease-fire took hold. Young men waved Palestinian and Hamas flags, passed out sweets, honked horns and set off fireworks. Spontaneous celebrations also broke out in east Jerusalem and across the occupied West Bank.

The mood was more somber in Israel, where Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu faced angry accusations from his right-wing base that he had halted the war too soon. Gideon Saar, a former ally who now leads a small party opposed to the prime minister, called the cease-fire “embarrassing.” Itamar Ben Gvir, head of the far-right Jewish Power party, tweeted that the cease-fire was “a grave surrender to terrorism and the dictates of Hamas.”

Hamas also claimed victory, despite the toll the war took on countless Palestinian families who lost loved ones, homes and businesses. It now faces the challenge of rebuilding in a territory already suffering from high unemployment and a coronavirus outbreak.

The development came a day after President Joe Biden urged Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to seek de-escalation, and amid mediation bids by Egypt, Qatar and the United Nations.

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

Israeli media reported that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s security cabinet approved the truce on the basis of what one official reportedly called “quiet in exchange for quiet.” Israeli cabinet spokesmen had no immediate comment.

People inspect destroyed cars and the rubble of residential building which was hit by Israeli airstrikes, in Gaza City, Thursday, May 20, 2021. (AP Photo/Adel Hana)

President Joe Biden on Thursday hailed the cease-fire in the fighting between Israel and Hamas, saying he sees a “genuine opportunity” toward the larger goal of building a lasting peace in the Middle East.

Biden credited the Egyptian government with playing a crucial role in brokering the cease-fire and said he and top White House aides were intensely involved in an “hour by hour” effort to stop the bloodletting.

“I believe the Palestinians and Israelis equally deserve to live safely and securely and enjoy equal measures of freedom, prosperity and democracy,” Biden said. “My administration will continue our quiet, relentless diplomacy toward that.”

Rocket attacks by Hamas and allied Islamic Jihad had resumed after an eight-hour pause on Thursday, as Israel continued shelling that it said aimed to destroy the factions’ military capabilities and deter them from future confrontation after the current conflict.

Since the fighting began on May 10, health officials in Gaza said 232 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.

On Thursday, Biden discussed Gaza with Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi and the White House said reports of moves toward a ceasefire were “encouraging.”

U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric confirmed that U.N. Middle East Envoy Tor Wennesland is in Qatar, adding: “We are actively engaged with all the relevant parties for an immediate ceasefire.”

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