Hamas said Tuesday it would stop firing rockets into Israel as part of a ceasefire deal, bringing a halt to 24 hours of intense fighting which threatened to escalate into full-scale war.
There was no official confirmation of a ceasefire from the Israeli government, which said in a brief statement that the Israeli military would “continue its operations as necessary”.
An uneasy calm followed the Hamas announcement, with no new reports of either Palestinian rockets or Israeli airstrikes for the first time since fighting erupted on Monday afternoon.
The Israeli military said Hamas and other Palestinian factions fired 460 rockets and mortars during the fighting, while Israeli warplanes bombed 160 targets in Gaza.
One civilian man was killed in the Israeli city of Ashkelon when his apartment building was struck by a rocket. He was identified as Mahmoud Abu Asabeh, a 48-year-old Palestinian from the occupied West Bank who was working in Israel.
Seven men were killed inside Gaza by Israeli strikes, according to the Hamas health ministry. Five of them were identified as fighters with Palestinian factions. It was not clear if the other two were civilians.
The situation began to escalate on Sunday night when a botched Israeli commando raid inside Gaza left one Israeli officer and seven Palestinian fighters dead.
The gun battle grew quickly into a larger confrontation, shattering several weeks of calm in Gaza during which Hamas and Israel appeared to be edging towards a longterm truce.
The ceasefire deal was brokered by Egypt with support from the UN, according to Hamas. Egypt has played a key role in ending several rounds of fighting between the two sides.
“Egyptian efforts have resulted in re-enforcing the ceasefire with the Israeli occupation. The resistance will abide by the ceasefire as long as the Israeli occupation adheres to the Egyptian- brokered truce,” Hamas said in a joint statement with Islamic Jihad and other smaller Palestinian factions.
Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister, is likely to come under criticism from his own Right-wing allies for agreeing to a ceasefire deal. Many politicians on the Right, including Mr Netanyahu’s defence minister, had called for a major attack against Hamas.
Hamas and its allies lost at least 12 fighters and saw many of their bases destroyed by Israeli jets. But Ismail Haniyeh, the leader of Hamas, hailed the fighting as a victory for his group, saying the people of Gaza had “embraced the resistance with patience and pride”.
Hamas succeeded in thwarting the Israeli commando raid and also successfully blew up a bus carrying Israeli soldiers with an anti-tank missile, in two symbolic blows against Israel’s superior forces.
The Israeli military said it was setting up an inquiry into the bus attack, which left one soldier badly injured.
The fighting also gave Palestinian factions a chance to test Israel’s Iron Dome defence missile system, which has been largely successful in intercepting rockets from Gaza.
Iron Dome brought down more than 100 rockets, the Israeli military said, but was still not able to prevent several direct hits in cities and towns near Gaza.
“Iron Dome so far has been phenomenal but even it is not hermetic and we can’t be under the assumption it will intercept everything,” said Lt Col Jonathan Conricus, a military spokesman.
Islamic Jihad also claimed to have tested out a new rocket during the clashes. Israel estimates that Palestinian groups have an arsenal of around 20,000 rockets and mortars, enough for several weeks of fighting.
Children in both Gaza and southern Israel spent a sleepless night on Monday as aircraft roared overheard and the sky was filled with the explosions of rockets and interceptor missiles. Schools was cancelled Tuesday for children in Gaza and in Israeli towns near the border.
Israeli families ran towards bomb shelters at the sound of the rocket sirens and families in Gaza huddled in their houses and hoped for the best. “The kids hear the bombing, that’s the worst part,” said one father in Gaza.
Patrick Amar, a father-of-three from the Israeli city of Ashkelon, was at home when a rocket struck a neighbouring building at around 11.30pm on Monday, killing one person and wounding several others.
“It was like an earthquake. All the windows blew out and the water tanks exploded,” he said. Mr Amar said it was a mistake for Israel to agree to a ceasefire.
“Israel needs to enter Gaza and clean out Hamas and Islamic Jihad. There are many simple and good people on the other side who want to live in peace with Israel but Hamas doesn’t let them,” he said.
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