A ceasefire between Israel and the Gaza terror groups went into effect at 4:30 a.m. Monday, ending two days of intense fighting that saw more than 600 rockets fired at Israel and four Israeli civilians killed, according to the Hamas and Islamic Jihad terror groups.
The Israeli government refused to confirm the reported truce, apparently so as to avoid publicly acknowledging its negotiations with terrorist groups. However, the military announced that, as of 7 a.m., it was lifting all security restrictions that had been in place in the south during the fighting, and that schools would be allowed to open, indicating that a ceasefire had indeed been reached.
An Egyptian official also confirmed the deal to AFP on condition of anonymity.
The apparent ceasefire, whose terms were not immediately clear, came after several hours of quiet and after a previous reported truce was punctured by rocket fire and airstrikes.
Late Sunday, Hebrew and Arabic media reported that mediators from Egypt and the European Union were on the verge of successfully brokering a ceasefire between Israel and terror groups in the coastal enclave.
The reports cited a Western diplomat, who said the agreement would go into effect around midnight. United Nations Middle East envoy Nikolay Mladenov was said to be mediating the talks along with Egyptian intelligence officials.
But as midnight came, the IDF continued to strike targets in Gaza and rocket sirens were heard across southern Israel. A salvo of rockets fired at the Ashkelon area was intercepted by the Iron Dome system. There were no reports of injuries.
There were no rockets or airstrikes after 2:00 a.m. Monday
Arabic media reports said the original ceasefire bid had floundered over an Israeli refusal to allow Qatari cash into Gaza. Hamas was adamant it wanted the money ahead of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, which starts Monday in the Palestinian territories and much of the Muslim world.
An Islamic Jihad official told AFP the truce agreement was based on Israel easing its blockade of the Gaza Strip. Among the steps, he said, were the easing of limits on fishing and improvements in Gaza’s electricity and fuel situation.
Israel did not comment on reports of the deal. In the past it has refrained from confirming similar arrangements with Gaza terror groups, even denying reported ceasefires that went on to hold for days, weeks or months at a time.
But the IDF on Monday morning did say it was lifting all emergency measures for residents of southern Israel, indicating it did not expect any more rocket fire from Gaza.
Schools in Beersheba, Sderot, Yavne and Kiryat Malachi announced that there would be classes as usual today, although school in the Eshkol, Shaar Hanegev, and Sdot Negev regions, which are closer to the Strip, was still canceled.
On Sunday night, before the truce took hold, the Israeli military said it bombed some 40 “terror targets” in the Gaza Strip in its latest round of airstrikes, bringing the IDF’s total number of raids up to 320 in the past two days. The army said it targeted sites connected to both Hamas, which rules Gaza, and the Iran-backed Islamic Jihad, the second most powerful terrorist organization in the Strip.
In all, over two days in response to the rocket fire, the Israeli military conducted hundreds of strikes from the air and land, including one highly irregular targeted killing of a terrorist operative whom the IDF said funneled money from Iran to terror groups in the Strip.
Palestinian medical officials reported 29 dead since Friday, including at least 11 terrorists, The Times of Israel confirmed.
The high-level security cabinet huddled for five hours on Sunday over the violence, which killed four Israeli civilians in a single day, the deadliest casualty rate for Israel since the 2014 Gaza war.
Following the meeting, the Prime Minister’s Office issued a brief statement saying that the army has been instructed “to continue the strikes and prepare for them to continue.”
The statement added that the government’s “main consideration is the security of the state and its citizens.” That appeared to refer to claims that Israel might cave to the demands of Hamas and Islamic Jihad in order to prevent the fight from continuing into Israel’s Memorial and Independence Days later this week and the international Eurovision Song Contest planned for May 14-18 in Tel Aviv.
As of Sunday evening, in addition to the four dead, at least 10 Israelis were injured by shrapnel from rockets, missiles and mortar shells from the Gaza Strip, according to the Magen David Adom ambulance service.
Fifty-eight year-old father of four Moshe Agadi was the first fatality after being rushed to Ashkelon’s Barzilai Medical Center with shrapnel wounds he sustained when the rocket hit his home in the city at around 2:30 a.m. Sunday.
In a barrage aimed at the same southern city later in the day, a rocket directly hit a factory, killing Zaid al-Hamamdeh, a 47-year-old father of seven, and injuring two others.
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A short while later, a third man, Moshe Feder, 60, was fatally wounded when an anti-tank guided missile slammed into his car as he was driving along the Route 34 highway near the community of Kibbutz Erez, just north of the Gaza border. He sustained a serious shrapnel wound to the leg, causing significant blood loss. Feder was pronounced dead at Barzilai Medical Center after CPR efforts failed. Hamas claimed responsibility for the attack.
On Sunday evening, a fourth man was killed after being struck by rocket shrapnel while running for cover in the southern city of Ashdod, medics said. Pinchas Menachem Prezuazman, 21, was survived by his wife and son. He was laid to rest in Jerusalem.
Judah Ari Gross and Agencies contributed to this report.