Israel and Hamas will cease fire across the Gaza Strip border, bringing a potentially tenuous halt to the fiercest fighting in decades.
A statement from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office said his Security Cabinet unilaterally approved the Egyptian-mediated proposal.
The two sides were still negotiating exactly when it would take effect.
Multiple reports said the truce was to go into effect at 2am local time, just over three hours after the cabinet’s decision.
‘The political leaders emphasised that the reality on the ground will be that which determines the future of the campaign,’ the statement said.
A Hamas official said the ceasefire would be ‘mutual and simultaneous’.
The decision came after heavy US pressure to halt the offensive.
Since the fighting began on May 10, health officials in Gaza say 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.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Security Cabinet approved a unilateral ceasefire to halt an 11-day Israeli military operation in the Gaza Strip, reports say
A fire ball erupts from a building following an Israeli bombardment over Rafah
Plumes of smoke rise into the air following Israeli airstrike, in Gaza City on May 20
Rockets are launched towards Israel from Gaza City, controlled by the Palestinian Hamas movement, on May 18, 2021
Israel had launched hundreds of airstrikes that it says have targeted Hamas’ infrastructure, including a vast tunnel network.
TIMELINE – Hamas and Israel: a history of confrontation
1987 – Hamas is created at the start of the first Palestinian Intifada, or uprising, against Israel’s occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Two years later, Hamas carries out its first attacks on Israeli military targets, including the kidnap and murder of two Israeli soldiers.
1993 – After years of violence, the first Oslo Accord, aimed at establishing peace between Israel and the Palestinians, is signed. Hamas opposes the peace process, and seeks to derail it with bus bombings and gun attacks in Israel.
2000 – Israel and the Palestinians fail to reach a final agreement in the peace process at a summit in the United States in July 2000. Two months later, Palestinian protests over a visit by Israeli opposition leader Ariel Sharon to Al-Aqsa mosque compound in East Jerusalem – known to Jews as Temple Mount, because it was the site of ancient Jewish temples, and to Muslims as the Noble Sanctuary – develop into a Second Intifada.
2001-02 – Hamas carries out a series of suicide bombings in Israel, including killing 21 Israelis outside a Tel Aviv disco in June 2001, and 30 Jewish celebrants at a Passover seder dinner in Netanya in March 2022. Four months later, Hamasâs military commander Salah Shehadeh is killed in an Israeli air strike, and Israel starts a siege of Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat’s compound in the West Bank city of Ramallah.
March-April 2004 – Israeli air strikes kill Hamas co-founder and spiritual leader, Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, and co-founder and political leader Abdel Aziz al-Rantissi, in Gaza within a month of each other. The Hamas leadership goes into hiding and the identity of Rantissiâs successor is kept secret.
Aug. 15, 2005 – Israeli forces start a unilateral withdrawal from Gaza, captured from Egypt in the 1967 Middle East war, abandoning settlements and leaving the densely populated enclave under the control of the Palestinian Authority.
Jan. 25, 2006 – Hamas wins a majority of seats in a Palestinian legislative election. Israel and United States cut off aid to Palestinians because Hamas refuses to renounce violence and recognise Israel.
June 25, 2006 – Hamas militants capture Israeli conscript Gilad Shalit in a cross-border raid, prompting Israeli air strikes and incursions. Shalit is finally freed over five years later in a prisoner exchange.
June 14, 2007 – Hamas takes over Gaza in a brief civil war, ousting Fatah forces loyal to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, who is based in the West Bank.
Dec 27, 2008 – Israel launches a 22-day military offensive in Gaza after Palestinians fire rockets at the southern Israeli town of Sderot. About 1,400 Palestinians and 13 Israelis are reported killed before a ceasefire is agreed.
Nov 14, 2012 – Israel kills Hamas’s military chief of staff, Ahmad Jabari, and eight days of Palestinian militant rocket fire and Israeli air strikes follow.
July-August 2014 – The kidnap and killing of three Israeli teenagers by Hamas leads to a seven-week war in which more than 2,100 Palestinians are reported killed in Gaza and 73 Israelis are reported killed, 67 of them military.
March 2018 – Palestinian protests begin at Gaza’s border with Israel against its blockade of the enclave. Israeli troops open fire to keep them back. More than 170 Palestinians are reported killed in several months of protests, which also prompt fighting between Hamas and Israeli forces.
May 7, 2021 – After weeks of tension during the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan, Israeli police clash with Palestinian protesters near Al-Aqsa Mosque over a legal case in which eight Palestinian families face losing their East Jerusalem homes to Jewish settlers.
May 10 – After a weekend of sporadic violence, hundreds of Palestinians are hurt in clashes with Israeli security forces at Al-Aqsa compound, Islam’s third holiest site. After demanding Israel withdraw its security forces from the compound, Hamas fires a barrage of rockets from Gaza into Israel. Israel hits back with air strikes on Gaza.
May 11 – The death toll mounts as the aerial bombardments continue. A 13-story residential building in Gaza collapses after being hit during an Israeli air strike. Palestinian militants launch rockets deep into Israel.
May 12 – The United States announces it will send an envoy to the region. Israel’s military kills a senior Hamas commander in Gaza during more hostilities.
May 13 – Israeli air strikes and militant rocket fire continue, and violence worsens in mixed communities of Jews and Arabs in Israel. Synagogues are attacked and clashes break out in some towns.
May 14 – Israel uses warplanes, tanks and artillery against a network of Palestinian militant tunnels under Gaza in an operation that is followed by more Palestinian rocket salvoes.
May 15 – An Israeli air strike destroys a 12-storey tower block that housed international news media organisations, while Palestinian militants fire rocket salvoes at Tel Aviv.
May 16 – Several homes are destroyed by an Israeli air strike on the densely populated enclave that Palestinian officials said killed 42 people, including 10 children, as rocket attacks on Israeli towns persist.
May 17 – Israeli missile attacks kill top Islamic Jihad commander Hussam Abu Harbeed and hit a seven-storey office building that the military said was used by Gaza’s Islamist rulers Hamas. Rockets fired by the militants hit a synagogue in the Israeli town of Ashkelon and an apartment block in Ashdod.
May 18 – The United Nations humanitarian agency says nearly 450 buildings in the Gaza Strip have been destroyed or badly damaged, including six hospitals and nine primary-care health centres. Around 52,000 have fled their homes, with most sheltering in U.N.-run schools.
May 19 – Israel says around 4,000 rockets have been launched at it from Gaza, most intercepted by missile defences and some 600 falling within the enclave. U.S. President Joe Biden urges both sides to de-escalate the violence.
May 20 – Both sides resume their attacks but ceasefire talks intensify. Israeli authorities say 12 people have been killed so far in Israel and that it has killed around 160 militants. Health officials in Gaza say 232 Palestinians have been killed, including 65 children, and more than 1,900 wounded.
May 20 – Hamas and the Israeli cabinet issue statements saying a truce has been agreed.
Hamas and other militant groups embedded in residential areas have fired more than 4,000 rockets at Israeli cities, with hundreds falling short and most of the rest intercepted.
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.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki said reports of a move toward a ceasefire were ‘clearly encouraging’.
She said the US was trying ‘to do everything we can to bring an end to the conflict’.
Earlier, Israel had unleashed a new wave of airstrikes across the Gaza Strip as Hamas fired more rockets into Israel.
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said he spoke to Israeli Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi by phone on Thursday during a visit to Greenland, and reiterated the message that the United States expects to see a ‘de-escalation on the path to a ceasefire’ between Israel and the Palestinians.
Blinken said there was a deep and shared concern around the world for the deaths of Palestinians and Israelis and Washington’s goal remains to end the violence.
The public broadcaster Kan said the fighting was to halt immediately, while other TV channels said it would go into effect at 2am.
There was no immediate reaction from Hamas.
It comes after Israel had unleashed a new wave of airstrikes across the Gaza Strip on Thursday and Hamas fired more rockets into Israel, despite growing signs that the sides were close to a cease-fire that would end 11 days of heavy fighting.
In an apparent sign of progress, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu convened an emergency meeting of his Security Cabinet, where the issue of a cease-fire was expected to be debated.
An Egyptian official said Israel has informed his government, which is mediating a truce, that it intends to end its military operations in Gaza. Speaking on condition of anonymity because he was discussing behind-the-scenes diplomacy, he said an announcement was expected following the Security Cabinet meeting.
The official spoke shortly after Egypt’s President Abdel Fattah el-Sissi talked by phone with President Joe Biden. The two leaders discussed ways to stop violence in the Palestinian Territories, el-Sissi’s office said.
In Washington, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said reports of a move toward a ceasefire were ‘clearly encouraging.’ She said the U.S. was trying ‘to do everything we can to bring an end to the conflict.’
With U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres urging an immediate cease-fire, a U.N. Mideast envoy was in the Gulf state of Qatar to help with efforts to restore calm, a diplomatic official said.
Energy-rich Qatar often helps mediate between Israel and Hamas and has donated hundreds of millions of dollars for development and humanitarian projects in Gaza in recent years.
The diplomat spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss the matter with the media.
Osama Hamdan, a top Hamas official based in Lebanon, also said he expected a cease-fire within the coming day.
Biden on Wednesday publicly pressed Netanyahu 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 cease-fire agreement was expected to take effect by early Friday, perhaps sooner.
Despite the signs of progress, fighting continued into the evening, 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.
Earlier Thursday, 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.
As the sun rose, residents surveyed the rubble from at least five family homes destroyed in Khan Younis. Heavy airstrikes also hit a commercial thoroughfare in Gaza City.
The Israeli military said it struck at least three homes of Hamas commanders in Khan Younis and another in Rafah, targeting ‘military infrastructure,’ as well as a weapons storage unit at a home in Gaza City.
On Wednesday, Biden told Israel on Wednesday that he expected ‘a significant de-escalation today on the path to a cease-fire’ – but Netanyahu pushed back, saying he was ‘determined to continue this operation until its aim is met.’
It marked the first public rift between the two close allies since the fighting began and posed a difficult test of the U.S.-Israel relationship early in Biden’s presidency.
Visiting the region, German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said Israel has ‘the right to defend itself against such unacceptable attacks.’ But he also expressed concern about the rising number of civilian victims and voiced support for truce efforts.
Even as the diplomatic efforts appeared to gather strength, an Israeli airstrike smashed into the Khawaldi family’s two-story house in Khan Younis, destroying it.
The 11 residents, who were sleeping outside the home out of fear, were all hospitalized, said Shaker al-Khozondar, a neighbor.
Shrapnel also hit his own home, killing his aunt and wounding her daughter and two other relatives, he said. Al-Khozondar spoke from the bedroom where his aunt Hoda died. The windows were shattered and the bed pillows and rubble stained with blood.
Weam Fares, a spokesman for a nearby hospital, confirmed the death and said at least 10 people were wounded in strikes overnight.
Heavy airstrikes also pummeled a street in the Jabaliya refugee camp in northern Gaza, destroying ramshackle homes with corrugated metal roofs nearby. The military said it struck two underground launchers in the camp used to fire rockets at Tel Aviv.
The current round of fighting between Israel and Hamas began May 10, when the militant group 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.
Since then, Israel has launched hundreds of airstrikes that it says have targeted Hamas’ 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 have been killed, including 65 children and 39 women, with 1,710 people wounded, according to the Gaza Health Ministry, which does not break the numbers down into fighters and civilians. Hamas and militant group Islamic Jihad say at least 20 of their fighters have been killed, while Israel says the number is at least 130. Some 58,000 Palestinians have fled their homes.
Twelve people in Israel, including a 5-year-old boy, a 16-year-old girl and a soldier, have been killed. The military said an anti-tank missile fired from Gaza hit an empty bus near the frontier on Thursday, lightly wounding an Israeli soldier.
Pictured: Gaza after Israeli war planes bombed the area, May 18, 2021
Rockets are launched from Gaza City, towards Israel early on May 19, 2021
People burn an effigy of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during a protest against Israel in solidarity with the Palestinian people, in Peshawar, Pakistan, 19 May
Israeli soldiers operate an artillery unit as it fires near the border between Israel and the Gaza Strip on May 18, 2021 in Sderot, Israel
A crane is used to carefully remove the unexploded missile from the home in Gaza
Since the fighting began, 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.
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 at least 18 hospitals and clinics and destroyed one health facility, the World Health Organization said. Nearly half of all essential drugs have run out.