A temporary cease-fire between Israel and Hamas in the Gaza Strip began after both sides agreed to a United Nations request for a pause in a week of fighting on humanitarian grounds.
The truce will last five hours starting from 10 a.m. local time to allow civilians to resupply provisions. Any attacks launched at Israel during that time will be met “firmly and decisively,” the army said late yesterday. Other Palestinian militant factions also agreed to the truce.
There were conflicting reports of a long-term cease-fire that would go into effect tomorrow morning. The BBC cited an Israeli official as saying an agreement had been reached while the Ynet website cited other Israeli officials as denying the report. Officials reached by Bloomberg on both sides had no immediate comment.
The proposal of a temporary cease-fire came after four boys aged between eight and 11 years old were killed by Israeli fire on a Gaza beach, according to Gaza Health Ministry official Ashraf al-Qedra. Israel’s military said the deaths appeared to be the “tragic outcome” of a strike targeting Hamas militants.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu yesterday indicated a ground invasion was still being considered, just months after U.S.-sponsored peace talks broke down. Even amid the signals of an escalation in fighting, Israel’s Channel 10 said Israeli officials were meeting with Egyptian and Palestinian teams in Cairo to seek ways to achieve an end to the fighting, which is in its tenth day and has left one Israeli and at least 227 Palestinians dead as of this morning.
Israeli Radio said Netanyahu’s government has authorized the mobilization of 8,000 more reservists on top of 41,000 already called up, though officials declined to confirm the report.
Netanyahu also said his top mission is to rid the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip of its weapons and end rocket attacks. He also said Hamas carries sole responsibility for the continued violence after rejecting the Egyptian truce plan Israel accepted briefly before resuming air strikes amid a hail of rocket fire on its communities from Gaza.
“The most important thing vis-a-vis Gaza is to ensure that Gaza is demilitarized,” Netanyahu said at a televised news conference.
A few hours before today’s temporary cease-fire was due to go into effect, Israel foiled an attempt by 13 Gaza militants to cross the border into Israeli territory through a tunnel, military spokesman Lieutenant-Colonel Peter Lerner said in a briefing today. Israeli aircraft fired at the group, killing at least one of the fighters, the others returned to Gaza using the tunnel. The incident won’t affect the truce, he said.
Israel has clashed with Gaza militants repeatedly since ending a 38-year occupation in 2005, while curbing the movement of people and goods through control of shared border crossings.
The latest violence flared after three Israeli teenagers were killed last month; Israel’s arrest of hundreds of members of Hamas, which it blames for the crime; and the suspected revenge killing of a Palestinian youth. Israel, the U.S. and European Union consider Hamas a terrorist group.
Israeli planes have struck about 1,900 targets since last week and more than 1,361 rockets have been fired by Hamas, the military said.
The fighting, the worst between the two sides since November 2012, hasn’t discouraged investors, with Israel’s benchmark TA-25 index rose 0.2 percent at 11:58 a.m. in Tel Aviv today. The shekel strengthened 0.1 percent against the dollar.
Shlomo Brom, a retired general, predicted Israel wouldn’t rush into a ground offensive.
Political and military leaders “don’t really see the utility of a limited ground attack, and think the risks of a more wide-scale offensive outweigh the benefits,” Brom, a senior research fellow at the Institute for National Security Studies at Tel Aviv University, said by phone.
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