Israeli wounded as mortar shell hits shop

Fragile truce between Israel and Hamas takes hold amid hopes to end fighting

Violence continues until minutes before ceasefire goes into effect at 2 a.m.; Biden offers assistance, sees ‘opportunity’ to move toward peace; Israel and Hamas claim success

A general view of Gaza City prior to the start of a ceasefire brokered by Egypt between Israel and the two main Palestinian terror groups in Gaza on May 20, 2021. (MOHAMMED ABED/AFP)
A general view of Gaza City prior to the start of a ceasefire brokered by Egypt between Israel and the two main Palestinian terror groups in Gaza on May 20, 2021. (MOHAMMED ABED/AFP)

A tentative ceasefire between Israel and terrorist groups in the Gaza Strip went into effect at 2 a.m. Friday morning, its tenuous nature highlighted with violence and threats continuing until minutes before the deadline.

Israel’s high-level security cabinet voted in favor of a ceasefire in Gaza late Thursday night, potentially bringing an end to 11 deadly days of hostilities with the Hamas terror group.

But several salvoes of rocket and mortar fire from the Strip continued to target Israeli communities during the three hours following the announcement until shortly before 2 a.m.

One person was lightly injured when a mortar shell hit a print shop in the community of Be’eri near the Gaza border, Israeli authorities said.

The shell directly hit the building, according to Fire and Rescue Services. The victim, 53, was taken to a nearby hospital for treatment, medics said.

Palestinian media said the IDF was carrying out strikes in Gaza. There was no confirmation from the army.

Rockets are launched towards Israel from Gaza City on May 20, 2021. (MAHMUD HAMS / AFP)

Meanwhile, Hamas’s military wing warned it would carry out widespread attacks — on Haifa in Israel’s north to the Ramon area in the south — if Israel did not abide by the pact.

“We had prepared a major blow, from Haifa to Ramon [airport in Eilat]… We will closely watch the behavior of the enemy until 2 a.m. and we will hold off the enormous strike we had prepared for our enemy,” said a spokesperson for Izz al-Din al-Qassam Brigades.

Earlier, a statement from the Prime Minister’s Office said that the security cabinet had “unanimously accepted the recommendation of all security officials, the IDF chief of staff, the head of the Shin Bet, the head of the Mossad and the head of the National Security Council, to accept the Egyptian initiative for a bilateral ceasefire without any conditions, which will take effect later.”

At the same time, the statement added that “the political leadership emphasizes that it is the reality on the ground that will determine the future of the operation.”

Following the meeting, a Hamas official confirmed to the Reuters news agency a “mutual and simultaneous” ceasefire with Israel had been reached.

Hamas foreign relations chief Osama Hamdan said that Hamas had received assurances regarding Israeli policy toward Sheikh Jarrah and the Temple Mount in East Jerusalem.

Palestinian terror groups have tied the hostilities in Gaza to unrest in Jerusalem connected to both prayer on the Temple Mount during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan and the pending eviction of a number of Palestinian families from the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood.

“The resistance has forged a new equation and a new victory,” Hamdan said.

Defense Minister Benny Gantz denied Hamas’s claims of assurances on Jerusalem as “completely false.”

US President Joe Biden issued a statement shortly before the ceasefire was to go into effect, saying he sees a “genuine opportunity” toward the larger goal of building a lasting peace in the Middle East.

US President Joe Biden delivers remarks on the Middle East in the Cross Hall of the White House, in Washington, DC on May 20, 2021. (Photo by Nicholas Kamm / AFP)

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.”

Biden vowed to help Israel restock its Iron Dome interceptors.

Claiming victory

The statement from the PMO said that defense officials had “reviewed with the ministers Israel’s great achievements in the campaign, some of which were unprecedented.”

The officials told the ministers that Israel had “exhausted” all of its possible military achievements in the conflict with Palestinian terror groups in Gaza, according to the Ynet news site.

“Hamas is deterred and suffered serious blows,” an official was quoted as telling the ministers.

In a statement released after the meeting, Gantz cheered the Israel Defense Forces, praising the “unprecedented military achievements in terms of forcefulness, precision and strategic importance in the fight against terror groups in the Gaza Strip” during the battle, dubbed Operation Guardian of the Walls.

Palestinians inspect a site hit during an Israeli airstrike in Gaza City on May 20, 2021 following rocket fire from the Strip toward Israel (MAHMUD HAMS / AFP)

Gantz said the army remained on high alert for additional attacks from Gaza and, echoing the PMO statement, said “the reality on the ground will determine the continuation of the operation.”

Shortly after the meeting, rocket alert sirens went off in Israeli communities near the Gaza Strip, signaling that Hamas was planning on continuing to fire rockets at Israeli cities until the 2 a.m. deadline.

The alarms were heard in the communities of Netiv Ha’asara, Erez and Yad Mordechai. There were no immediate reports of injuries.

The ministerial panel convened shortly after 7 p.m. against the backdrop of dozens of rockets fired from Gaza Thursday and continued strikes by the IDF in the coastal enclave.

Hamas and other Gaza terror groups launched nearly 3,700 rockets at Israel since May 10, at times forcing people living near Gaza into bomb shelters around the clock. Israel, in response, carried out an extensive bombing campaign in the Gaza Strip.

Gaza’s Hamas-run health ministry says 232 people, including more than 66 minors, have been killed by Israeli strikes over the past 10 days. According to the IDF, more than 120 of those killed were members of Hamas and over 25 were members of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad as of Monday night. The IDF also says some of the Gaza civilian fatalities were killed by the terror groups’ own rockets falling short and exploding in Gaza.

Twelve people in Israel, including a 5-year-old boy and a 16-year-old girl, have been killed in rocket fire, and hundreds have been injured. Hamas and other Gaza terror groups have fired over 4,000 rockets and other projectiles at Israel.

A ball of fire erupts from a building in Gaza City’s Rimal residential district on May 20, 2021, during an Israeli bombardment on the Hamas-controlled enclave following rocket fire (BASHAR TALEB / AFP)

The ministerial meeting came amid mixed reports about the progress of ceasefire talks to end hostilities. According to Al-Jazeera, Israel had informed Egypt — which was mediating the talks between the Jewish state and Hamas — that it was willing to halt its military campaign.

Talks continued after Biden urged a “significant de-escalation” by the end of Wednesday while Netanyahu vowed to push on until the military campaign reaches its objective — “to restore quiet and security” for Israelis.

The US, a key Israel ally, has repeatedly blocked the adoption of a joint UN Security Council statement calling for a halt to hostilities, saying it could undermine efforts to de-escalate the crisis. Earlier this week, France began circulating a Security Council resolution calling for an immediate ceasefire.

Shortly before the announcement of the ceasefire, the White House said that the president spoke earlier Thursday with his Egyptian counterpart, Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi.

A statement said that the two leaders discussed “efforts to achieve a ceasefire that will bring an end to the current hostilities in Israel and Gaza.”

Aaron Boxerman and Judah Ari Gross contributed to this report.

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