The Hamas terror group said a ceasefire had been reached to end nearly two days of intense fighting with Israel, even as the high-level security cabinet on Thursday night instructed the IDF to “continue acting forcefully” against the terror groups in Gaza.
Hamas’ Al-Aqsa TV channel reported late Thursday that a ceasefire had taken hold “on the basis of mutual calm.” It said the deal was mediated by Egypt and other regional players.
Israel denied a ceasefire had been reached, but a senior Israeli official told Israel Radio that quiet would be met with quiet.
By 2.00 a.m the quiet appeared to be holding with no rockets or airstrikes reported.
A senior Hamas official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the deal had formally gone into effect at midnight.
He said the agreement merely ended the latest two-day burst of violence between Israel and Hamas, adding that Egypt would continue efforts to broker a long-term truce.
Israel’s Channel 10 TV, quoting diplomatic sources, said the deal had been brokered by Egypt and United Nations envoy for Middle East peace Nickolay Mladenov.
The ceasefire reports came just an hour after the security cabinet completed a four-hour meeting on Gaza, instructing the military to “continue acting forcefully” against terror groups in the Strip,
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu convened the security cabinet on Thursday evening to discuss the violence in the south, as IDF jets flattened a five-story building in the Gaza Strip it said served as a headquarters for Hamas’s internal security service.
“The [security] cabinet instructed the IDF to continue acting forcefully against terrorists,” a statement from the Prime Minister’s Office said at the conclusion of the meeting.
An Israeli official told reporters Hamas has been seeking an Egyptian-mediated ceasefire throughout the day on Thursday, after an earlier truce that went into effect in the afternoon was breached after some two hours. In the absence of a deal, Israel was able to target “valuable” Hamas military targets in Gaza, the official said.
The terrorist group was reportedly eager to cut a deal with Israel, with negotiations via Cairo said to be ongoing throughout Thursday night.
Earlier on Thursday, the IDF said in a statement its airstrike on the building in northern Gaza came in response to Hamas rocket fire that was launched deep inside Israeli territory. The statement said the building was the headquarters for Hamas’s internal security service, which served as the “operational arm” of the terror group. The building also served as a cultural center.
It was not clear if the escalation of hostilities, the latest in a series of intense exchanges of fire in recent months, would derail the indirect ceasefire negotiations between Israel and Gaza’s Hamas rulers.
Channel 10 news reported Thursday there was a “growing understanding” in the defense establishment that reaching a ceasefire deal with Hamas was impossible, and that Israel must launch a full-fledged military operation to restore calm. The report said the IDF was mulling a short but intense operation targeting some the more affluent neighborhoods in Gaza City to exert the maximum pressure on the Hamas leadership. It said any military campaign in Gaza would not ultimately seek to oust Hamas, but force the ruling terror group to agree to an understanding with Israel.
Also Thursday, Hamas insisted that neither it nor the Islamic Jihad terror group were responsible for Thursday’s rocket attack on Beersheba that ruptured a two-hour ceasefire and marked a significant increase in the level of violence from Gaza.
According to a report by Hadashot news, the Hamas leadership blamed a radical Salafist group in the Gaza Strip for launching the rocket 40 kilometers away, provoking the Israeli retaliation.
On Facebook, Hamas spokesman Hazim Qassim slammed Israel for its “deliberate bombardment and destruction of cultural center,” calling it a “barbaric act that belongs in the Dark Ages.”
Eighteen Palestinians were wounded in the Israeli strike on the alleged Hamas headquarters, according to the Hamas-run Gaza health ministry. The degree of their injuries was not immediately known.
IDF spokesman Lt. Col. Jonathan Conricus said Thursday that Gaza terror groups have fired about 150 rockets at Israel in the past 24 hours, while Israel has struck some 140 Hamas targets in Gaza.
He said the rocket that landed in Beersheba — some 40 kilometers (25 miles) from the Gaza border– required a more powerful, longer-range rocket, marking a significant escalation in violence.