Israel and Hamas said they accepted an Egyptian-brokered cease-fire plan to end a seven-week conflict in the Gaza Strip that has killed more than 2,100 Palestinians and about 70 Israelis.
The cease-fire, announced in a statement by Egypt’s Foreign Ministry, started at 7 p.m. local time yesterday and was hailed from mosque loudspeakers in Gaza City as thousands of Palestinians poured into the streets. Rifle-toting militants fired in the air, cheering, “Long live Hamas!”
Under the deal, Gaza’s border crossings with Israel are being opened to let in reconstruction materials and foreign aid, while fishing zones off the coast have been extended, Egypt said. The two sides will resume indirect talks on “other issues” in the coming month, it said.
“We’ve come to an arrangement,” Israeli Strategic Affairs Minister Yuval Steinitz told Channel 2 television, confirming that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu accepted the cease-fire. “We didn’t win in a knock-out,” he said.
Hamas, the militant group that rules Gaza, had demanded an end to the blockade on Gaza initiated in 2006 after the group won Palestinian elections. Israel wants the transit points supervised by a third party to prevent arms smuggling. It has called for the disarming of Hamas and other militants groups, which were also involved in the truce talks.
While the cease-fire halts the violence, it may weaken Netanyahu politically because the war was “too long and too costly,” said Shlomo Brom, a retired general and senior fellow at Tel Aviv University’s Institute for National Security Studies. Hamas will probably benefit because “they had been pretty much dismissed before the fighting and now they’re a player again.”
Israel’s benchmark TA-25 Index for stocks rose 0.4 percent in Tel Aviv yesterday. Several previous Egyptian-brokered cease-fire agreements have collapsed since violence between Israel and Hamas escalated last month.
As Gazans thronged main streets covered in rubble from Israeli air strikes, Hamas leaders including Mahmoud Zahar appeared publicly for the first time since going into hiding when the fighting began in July.
“This is a great victory for the Palestinian people,” said Nabila Salem, a mother of six children, who went into the street to celebrate. “I know the destruction was huge and the pain is difficult, but we’ve gotten used to pain, and it’s the only way to win.”
Shortly before the agreement went into effect, attacks from both sides intensified. Three Palestinians were killed in an Israeli airstrike at about 6 p.m. local time yesterday, the Gaza health ministry said. Two Israelis were killed by a mortar attack, according to the army, which said rockets also landed in open areas near Tel Aviv. Israel, the U.S. and the European Union consider Hamas a terrorist organization.
Hundreds of the Palestinians killed during 50 days of fighting were women and children, according to Gaza officials. About 70 Israelis, almost all of them soldiers, were killed.
The conflict also has hurt the Israeli economy, prompting the central bank to cut its benchmark interest rate this week for the second consecutive month, to a record 0.25 percent.
Egypt, which has been mediating the talks, has joined Israel in imposing a blockade on Gaza. The Egyptian statement didn’t say whether that would be eased.
The U.S. strongly supports the cease-fire and urges “all parties to fully and completely comply with its terms,” Secretary of State John Kerry, who was involved in earlier attempts to broker a truce, said in an e-mailed statement. He said the U.S. is “prepared to work with our international partners on a major reconstruction initiative” in Gaza.