Gaza ceasefire takes effect after five days of deadly fighting
A ceasefire was in effect on the Gaza Strip Sunday, drawing people back into the streets after five days of cross-border exchanges killed at least 34 Palestinians and one Israeli.
The truce got off to a rough start after the final 30 minutes running up to the expected Saturday 10:00 pm (1900 GMT) deadline saw a volley of fire.
Dozens of rockets were launched from Gaza towards Israel, prompting renewed air strikes, AFP correspondents in the territory said.
Most of the rockets were intercepted by Israeli air defences.
A few more rockets were fired after 1900 GMT, followed by fresh Israeli strikes, before things appeared to calm down.
Two rockets were fired from Gaza after 11:00 pm (2000 GMT) with no victims, the Israeli army said.
Egypt brokered the latest ceasefire, saying it had secured agreement from both Israel and the Palestinian militant group Islamic Jihad.
“Israel’s National Security Adviser Tsahi Hanegbi… thanked Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, and expressed the State of Israel’s appreciation for Egypt’s vigorous efforts to bring about a ceasefire,” a statement from the Israeli prime minister’s office said.
Israel’s response to the Egyptian initiative means “quiet will be answered by quiet, and if Israel is attacked or threatened it will continue to do everything it needs to do in order to defend itself”, he said.
A Palestinian source confirmed Islamic Jihad’s agreement.
“We want to thank Egypt for its efforts,” Islamic Jihad political department official Mohammad al-Hindi told AFP. He has been in Cairo since the fighting erupted on Tuesday.
– ‘What have we done?’ –
For days, life in Gaza and Israeli communities near the border has been a daily routine of air strikes and sirens warning of incoming rocket fire.
Residents in the crowded Gaza Strip cowered indoors as the fighting raged, with streets empty and only a few shops and pharmacies open.
“The whole Palestinian people are suffering,” Muhammad Muhanna, 58, told AFP in the ruins of his home. “What have we done?”
In Deir al-Balah in the central Gaza Strip, a dead donkey lay in the ruins of a row of buildings levelled in an Israeli strike.
“No one is safe in their homes,” said Imad Rayan, 64.
A spokesman for the interior ministry in Gaza said on the final day of its campaign the Israeli military had concentrated on “targeting civilians, residential and civilian buildings”.
There had been mounting calls for a ceasefire to be agreed, including from Israel’s closest ally, the United States.
The White House welcomed the agreement and commended Egypt and Qatar’s roles in defusing hostilities.
“US officials worked closely with regional partners to achieve this resolution to the hostilities to prevent further loss of life and restore calm for both Israelis and Palestinians,” White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said in a statement on Saturday.
Egypt had kept up its mediation effort despite repeated setbacks.
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