Palestinian terrorist groups in the Gaza Strip announced that Egypt brokered a ceasefire agreement between them and Israel on Tuesday evening, after over 460 rockets and mortar shells were fired at southern Israel over the course of 25 hours.
A senior Israeli diplomatic official appeared to confirm the reported armistice. First reports said the decision to accept a ceasefire agreement with Hamas, Palestinian Islamic Jihad, and other terror groups in Gaza was taken by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at Tuesday’s seven-hour meeting of the security cabinet without being put to a vote. Four ministers quickly said they opposed it.
“Israel maintains its right to act. Requests from Hamas for a ceasefire came through four different mediators. Israel responded that the events on the ground will decide [if a ceasefire will go into effect],” the Israeli official said, on condition of anonymity.
According to the military, over 460 rockets and mortar shells were fired at southern Israel over the course of 25 hours on Monday and Tuesday.
The Iron Dome missile defense system intercepted over 100 of them. Most of the rest landed in open fields, but dozens landed inside Israeli cities and towns, killing one person, injuring dozens more, and causing significant property damage.
In response to the rocket and mortar attacks, the Israeli military says it targeted approximately 160 sites in the Gaza Strip connected to the Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad terror groups, including four facilities that the army designated as “key strategic assets.”
Cabinet members who had previously supported more aggressive military action in the Strip quickly denied that they had supported the measure.
“The briefings about the purported support from Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman for ending the strikes in Gaza are fake news. The defense minister’s position has been consistent and has not changed,” Liberman’s office said in a statement.
Education Minister Naftali Bennett also denied he’d supported the ceasefire, saying the claim was a “total lie.”
Jerusalem Affairs Minister Ze’ev Elkin and Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked were also said to have opposed a ceasefire agreement.
The decision was reached following a seven-hour marathon meeting of the security cabinet.
At the conclusion of the meeting, it released a statement that read, “The security cabinet discussed the events in the south. The cabinet received briefings from the IDF and defense officials on the [IDF] strikes and widespread operations against terror targets in Gaza. The cabinet instructed the IDF to continue its strikes as needed.”
Shortly after the cabinet announcement Tuesday, Hamas’s political chief in Gaza, Ismail Haniyeh, was reported as saying that if Israel stopped its strikes against Hamas infrastructure in Gaza, the terror group would return to ceasefire talks.
On Tuesday, Egyptian intelligence officials, United Nations Special Envoy to the Middle East Peace Process Nickolay Mladenov, and other third-party mediators scrambled to broker a ceasefire between the two sides.
According to the IDF, the barrage of more than 460 rockets and mortars lobbed at southern Israel began shortly after 4:30 p.m. Monday when Palestinian terrorists fired a Kornet anti-tank guided missile at a bus near the border, severely injuring an Israeli soldier on board.
The anti-tank missile attack occurred less than a day after an IDF special operations officer was killed in an operation in Gaza gone awry that also killed seven Palestinian gunmen. Following the clashes, Hamas said “the blood of our righteous martyrs will not be wasted.”
Dozens of incoming rockets and mortars exploded inside cities and towns throughout southern Israel, several of them directly hitting homes and apartment buildings in Ashkelon, Netivot, and Sderot.
One man was killed in one of those direct hits in Ashkelon. He was later identified as a 48-year-old Palestinian man from Hebron, Mahmoud Abu Asbah, who was living in Israel with a legal work permit.
According to medical officials, 27 other people were injured in attacks, including the soldier hit in the anti-tank missile attack and two women wounded in direct hits on apartment buildings in Ashkelon. A man in his 40s was also moderately wounded by shrapnel, medics said.
In Gaza, seven Palestinians — at least five of them later claimed by terrorist groups as members — were reportedly killed in the IDF’s raids on Monday and Tuesday, apparently in airstrikes on rocket-launching cells.
In recent weeks, Egyptian and UN mediators had appeared to be making progress in brokering informal understandings aimed at quieting the situation.
Last week, Israel allowed Qatar to deliver $15 million to Gaza to allow cash-strapped Hamas to pay the salaries of thousands of government workers. At the same time, Hamas has lowered the intensity of the border protests in recent weeks.
The fighting on Monday and Tuesday cast doubt over understandings previously brokered by Egypt and UN officials to reduce tensions. Just a day earlier, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had defended those understandings, saying he was doing everything possible to avoid another “unnecessary war.”