Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 24 August 2019

Gaza ceasefire between Israel and Hamas agreed after three days of violence

Hamas' radio said a truce had been agreed, while Israel reduced restrictions on its citizens near the enclave's border

A ceasefire to bring an end to the bloodiest fighting in the Gaza Strip since 2014 was reached on Monday, as fighting petered out and Palestinian groups said Egypt had mediated the truce.

Fighting between militants in Gaza and the Israeli military erupted three days ago, killing four civilians in Israel and 25 Palestinians, more than half of them civilians.

Palestinian groups confirmed the truce on Monday, saying that it was reached with the help of mediators from Egypt, the UN and Qatar.

Hamas spokesman Hazem Qassem added that Hamas could still use "different pressuring tools" to make Israel ease a crippling blockade of Gaza it has enforced along with Egypt since 2007.

A spokesman for UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres welcomed the ceasefire following the violence.

“It is now up to the parties to implement these understandings,” he said, noting that the UN special envoy to the Middle East Nikolay Mladenov would travel to Egypt on Tuesday for talks.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu did not address the ceasefire in a statement, but said, "we've forcefully struck Hamas and Islamic Jihad. The battle is not over and demands patience and discretion."

An Israeli military spokeswoman declined to comment on the deal.

Israeli opposition politicians, including Benny Gantz who challenged Mr Netanyahu in Israel's recent elections, criticised the prime minister for striking a truce.

Mr Gantz said the deal was "capitulation to blackmail".

Confirmation of the truce came after air raid sirens turned quiet and residents on both sides returned to their normal lives.

Israel ordered for restrictions in the south of the country, such as closed schools and roads to be lifted from 7am on Monday.

Islamic Jihad, the second largest Palestinian movement, who Israel accused of triggering the escalation also confirmed a "mutual and concurrent" truce had been brokered by Egypt.

The latest fighting broke out after snipers affiliated with the Islamic Jihad, which has been designated as a terror group by the EU and US, fired at Israeli troops and wounded two, according to the military.

It then accused Israel of delaying action on a deal to end violence and ease a 12-year blockade on the coastal enclave. Israel has killed over 200 Palestinians since March last year in weekly rallies that mobilised in a bid to end Israel's blockade. Around 2 million Palestinians live in Gaza, a crowded sliver of territory only 7 kilometres wide. Its economy has been battered by Israel's siege and three wars since 2008. It has one of the highest unemployment rates in the world.

The terms of the latest ceasefire deal were not immediately known.

Israel said it attacked some 350 targets in Gaza over three days, in response to what they say were more than 600 rockets and other projectiles fired by militants across the border.

One of Islamic Jihad's leaders in Gaza said on Sunday that the group was trying to counter efforts by the United States to revive peace negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians.

US President Donald Trump's Middle East team has said it will unveil its peace plan in June, after Ramadan is over. Peace negotiations have been moribund since 2014.

"What the resistance is doing now is the most important part of confronting Trump's deal. We all have to get united behind the decision by the resistance to fight," Islamic Jihad's Jamil Eleyan said in a statement.

Several buildings in Gaza City were destroyed, including Hamas offices and a bureau of Turkish news agency Anadolu, who denounced the strike.

Two more Palestinian victims were discovered under the rubble in Gaza on Monday following the trade of fire, the enclave's health ministry said. It named them as Talal Abu Al Jidian, 48, and his wife Raghda Abu Al Jidian, 40.

Palestinian authorities have accused Israel of killing a pregnant mother and her 14-month-old niece in an air strike on Sunday. Israel disputed the account, blaming Hamas fire, but the family of baby Saba Abu Arar said an Israeli drone struck the building where they were frequenting in the eastern Gaza Strip.

Updated: May 6, 2019 09:39 PM