Israel and Hamas Begin Cease-Fire in Gaza Conflict




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Celebrations broke out in Gaza after Israel and Hamas agreed to a cease-fire on Thursday. The truce comes after more than 10 days of fighting that has taken hundreds of lives.CreditCredit…Photo by Samar Abu Elouf for The New York Times

The sirens across southern Israel were silent on Friday, and the thunder of bombs bursting in Gaza City was replaced by sounds of celebratory gunfire as a fragile cease-fire between Israel and Hamas went into force, bringing an end to more than 10 days of fighting that claimed more than 200 lives.

The truce, mediated by Egypt, began at 2 a.m. in Israel as people on either side of the divide watched nervously to see whether it would hold.

As morning dawned with no reported violations of the truce, both sides were beginning to take stock of the deadliest Israeli-Palestinian fighting in seven years.

A small skirmish was reported outside the Aqsa Mosque compound in Jerusalem on Friday afternoon between Palestinians and the Israeli police, but they appeared limited in scope.

However, tensions remained high, and past cease-fires between Israel and Hamas have proved fragile, so both sides were watching developments nervously.

Hamas and Israel have been engaged in some form of conflict since the Palestinian group was founded in the 1980s. This particular round of military action began as Hamas fired a barrage of rockets at Jerusalem in response to several police raids on the Aqsa Mosque, one of the holiest sites in Islam, and the planned evictions of several Palestinian families from their homes in the city.

Even with the pause in fighting, the underlying causes of the conflict remain: the dispute over land rights in Jerusalem and the West Bank, religious tensions in the Old City of Jerusalem and the absence of a peace process to resolve the conflict. Gaza remains under a punishing blockade by Israel and Egypt.

Credit…Amir Levy/Getty Images

But the immediate concern for world leaders was the rapidly escalating humanitarian crisis in Gaza and the growing death toll — which included dozens of Palestinian children.

President Biden spoke to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel six times in recent days — turning increasingly blunt as the crisis stretched on. He warned the Israeli leader that he could not withstand mounting international criticism of the Gaza strikes for long.

The president’s advisers said he believed he could quietly push Mr. Netanyahu, whom he has known for 40 years, to bring an end to the violence. And in the hours before the cease-fire announcement, Mr. Biden also held a call with President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi of Egypt to discuss the possibility of brokering a deal.

After the agreement was announced, Mr. Biden offered praised what he described as a “mutual, unconditional” cease-fire.

“I believe the Palestinians and Israelis equally deserve to live safely and securely,” Mr. Biden said in brief remarks delivered at the White House, “and to enjoy equal measures of freedom, prosperity and democracy.”

Diplomats from Egypt, Qatar and the United Nations worked intensively to broker the deal between Hamas and Israel, which do not talk to each other directly.

The final details were hammered out late Thursday, and Mr. Netanyahu’s office security cabinet voted unanimously to accept the Egyptian proposal. Around the same time, Hamas officials confirmed that they, too, had accepted.

Each side cautioned that its compliance could depend on the other’s actions.

Children leaving a shelter in Ashkelon, Israel, on Friday.
Credit…Ronen Zvulun/Reuters

Cease-fire agreements are precarious things, diplomats and Middle East experts cautioned, even as the deal between Hamas and Israel held in place on Friday.

After announcing the agreement on Thursday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office warned that “the reality on the ground will determine the continuation of the campaign.”

Similarly, a Hamas spokesman, Taher al-Nono, said on Thursday, “the Palestinian resistance will abide by this agreement as long as the occupation abides by it.”

No immediate violations were reported after the cease-fire began officially at 2 a.m. local time Friday. Past deals between Israel and Hamas, which has ruled Gaza since 2007, have often fallen apart. But the agreements can offer periods of calm to allow time for negotiating a longer-term deal. They also give civilians a chance to regroup and allow displaced people to return to their homes.

Previous cease-fires have usually gone in stages, beginning with an agreement that Israel and Hamas will stop attacking each other, a dynamic that Israelis call “quiet for quiet.”

That means Hamas halting rocket attacks into Israel and Israel ceasing bombardment of Gaza.

Pauses in the fighting are usually followed by other steps: Israel easing its blockade of Gaza to allow humanitarian relief, fuel and other goods to enter; Hamas reining in protesters and allied militant groups that attack Israel; and both sides exchanging prisoners or those killed in action.

But bigger challenges — such as a more thorough rehabilitation of Gaza and improving relations between Israel, Hamas and Fatah, the Palestinian party that controls the West Bank — have remained elusive over the past several rounds of violence.

There is rebuilding after every cycle of violence, usually with aid from the United Nations, the European Union and Qatar, but without a permanent peace, reconstruction is always risky.

Despite the devastating toll on Palestinian civilians and the extensive damage to homes, schools and medical facilities in Gaza, the current conflict has been more limited than the wars Israel and Hamas waged in 2008 and 2014, when Israeli troops entered Gaza.

In July 2014, six days after the Israeli Army began bombarding Gaza, Egypt proposed a cease-fire that Israel agreed to. But Hamas said that it addressed none of its demands, and the cycle of rocket attacks and Israeli airstrikes resumed after less than 24 hours.

Egypt announced another cease-fire two days later, but Israel then sent in tanks and ground troops and began firing into Gaza from the sea, saying that its aim was to destroy tunnels that Hamas uses to carry out attacks. Over the next several weeks, Israeli forces periodically halted their attacks to allow humanitarian aid, but the fighting continued.

In all, nine pauses in fighting came and went before the 2014 conflict ended, after 51 days, with more than 2,000 Palestinians and more than 70 Israelis killed.

Palestinians took to the streets and celebrated in Gaza after the cease-fire was announced.
Credit…Hosam Salem for The New York Times

As the cease-fire between Israel and Hamas took effect at 2 a.m. local time on Friday, thousands of Palestinians gathered in the streets of Gaza City to celebrate what Hamas supporters were calling a defeat of the Israeli forces.

With the skies free from the threat of Israeli bombardment for the first time since May 10, loudspeakers at mosques blared “God is great,” a chant more often heard during holidays such as Eid al-Fitr, which marks the end of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.

Voices on speakers called on people to come out “to celebrate the victory,” while some Hamas supporters passed out sweets and others toted weapons on their shoulders, occasionally firing into the air.

“I feel we won,” said Ibrahim Hamdan, 26, adding that barrages of rocket attacks by Hamas had forced Israel to accept the cease-fire.

“It’s the first time that the resistance has hurt the enemy,” he said.

Ibrahim al Najjar, a 26-year-old who joined the rally with two friends, said Hamas had achieved a milestone when its rockets reached Tel Aviv, the bustling Israeli coastal city that for the first time last week found itself in the militants’ firing line, with Israeli beachgoers forced to scurry to safety.

“It’s the most luxurious victory, because at least we struck Tel Aviv,” Mr. al Najjar said. “I wasn’t as happy on my wedding day as I was when they hit Tel Aviv.”

Some Hamas supporters chanted, “We are Mohammed Deif’s men,” referring to the Hamas military commander whom Israeli officials said they had been trying to kill, so far without apparent success.

But the celebratory mood belied the devastation in Gaza, where Israeli airstrikes killed more than 200 Palestinians, destroyed buildings, left huge swaths of the territory without electricity or water, and forced tens of thousands to flee their homes. Some in the crowd questioned what the conflict had accomplished.

A jubilant mood on Friday was also apparent in the West Bank, where hundreds participated in marches in several cities to celebrate what Hamas supporters call “the victory of the resistance.”

In southern city of Hebron, many marchers held up green Hamas flags — a rare site in the West Bank, where Israel and the Palestinian Authority have forcefully cracked down on Hamas and often do not tolerate public showings of support for the militant group.

In Gaza, Ramadan Smama came out not to celebrate, he said, but to take in the destruction. The 53-year-old said that he admired the growing capabilities of Hamas’s arsenal of rockets, but that it was too soon to tell whether the fighting would improve life for the two million people of Gaza.

“I don’t see achievements,” he said, “but I hope there will be achievements.”

Iyad Abuheweila and

Amna Hadayed standing next to an unexploded Israeli bomb that fell inside her daughter’s home on Thursday in Khan Younis, southern Gaza.
Credit…Samar Abu Elouf for The New York Times

As the humanitarian situation for the two million people living in the Gaza Strip grew more dire by the day, international pressure mounted to find a way to persuade Israel and Hamas to end a cycle of violence in which civilians are bearing a heavy cost.

President Biden spoke with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel on Wednesday, telling the Israeli leader that he “expected a significant de-escalation today on the path to a cease-fire,” administration officials said.

On Thursday, Mr. Biden spoke with President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi of Egypt, whose nation has acted as an intermediary in the negotiations as neither the United States nor Israel deal directly with Hamas.

And at a special meeting of the United Nations General Assembly, Secretary General António Guterres called for a halt to the bloodshed and destruction. “The fighting must stop immediately,” he said. “I appeal to all parties to cease hostilities, now and I reiterate my call on all sides for an immediate cease-fire.”




U.N. Secretary General Calls For Israel-Hamas Cease-Fire

At a special meeting of the United Nations General Assembly on Thursday, Secretary General António Guterres called for a halt to the fighting between Israel and Hamas. He cited more than 200 Palestinian deaths, including 60 children, since the conflict started.

The past 10 days have witnessed a dangerous and horrific surge in deadly violence in the occupied Palestinian territory, particularly Gaza, and in Israel. I am deeply shocked by the continued air and artillery bombardment by the Israeli Defense forces in Gaza. As of 19 May, these have claimed the lives of at least 208 Palestinians, including 60 children, and injured thousands more. The fighting must stop immediately. I appeal to all parties to cease hostilities now, and I reiterate my call on all sides for an immediate cease-fire. The hostilities have caused serious damage to vital civilian infrastructure in Gaza, including roads and electricity lines contributing to a humanitarian emergency.

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At a special meeting of the United Nations General Assembly on Thursday, Secretary General António Guterres called for a halt to the fighting between Israel and Hamas. He cited more than 200 Palestinian deaths, including 60 children, since the conflict started.

Germany’s foreign minister, Heiko Maas, met with Mr. Netanyahu on Thursday and also pressed for peace.

Since the start of the conflict 11 days ago, Israeli airstrikes have killed more than 200 Palestinians, including over 60 children, according to the Gaza health ministry. The Israeli military said that more than 130 of those killed were combatants. Hamas rocket attacks have killed more than a dozen people in Israel, including two children, according to the Israeli authorities.

Hamas has launched more than 4,000 rockets at southern Israel — the vast majority shot down by Israeli defenses, falling short of their targets or landing in unpopulated areas. That steady onslaught appeared to slow overnight, with Israeli military officials recording 70 rockets between 7 p.m. and 7 a.m.

Israel has targeted around 1,000 sites in Gaza that it claims hold significant military value, according to Israeli military officials. However, the campaign has also caused widespread destruction of homes and critical infrastructure, displacing tens of thousands from their homes and causing dire shortages of water and medical supplies.

While the pace of the air assault eased overnight, Israeli warplanes launched several airstrikes before dawn, sending fiery explosions and huge plumes of smoke into the night.

The continued fighting highlighted how fraught the final hours before any cease-fire deal can be — with the risk of miscalculations high and last-minute attempts to strike a blow derailing diplomatic efforts.

An Israeli Arab woman and her daughter walking past the wreckage of a car in Lod, Israel, on Wednesday.
Credit…Dan Balilty for The New York Times

The mob violence between Jews and Arabs has been among the most disturbing developments of the latest Israel-Gaza conflict, prompting President Reuven Rivlin of Israel to warn of the perils of “civil war.” This week, The Times’s Jerusalem correspondent Isabel Kershner visited the Israeli city of Lod, a few miles south of Tel Aviv, as the conflict continued into its 11th day.

A veneer of calm has been restored to Lod, a mixed Arab-Jewish town of 80,000. It was a stark contrast to the scene just over a week ago.

At that time, some 40 Orthodox Jewish families fled their homes as angry mobs rampaged in the streets. Many needed police protection when they fled and rioters set fire to cars, apartments, synagogues and even a religious school during three nights of unrest. About 30 families had returned by Wednesday.

Some Arab families from the same neighborhood were also forced to flee after dozens of right-wing Jewish vigilantes from outside the city, including armed West Bank settlers, came into town and attacked Arab property. Witnesses in the city said they had heard gunshots from both sides.

Even with calm mostly restored and most of the burned-out cars and trucks removed, the air is still filled with a faint acrid smell lingering from the arson attacks.

The city, which had an uneasy and fragile coexistence even before the latest conflict, remained under a state of emergency as hundreds of Border Police officers patrolled areas of friction.

A Jewish resident who was critically injured when Arab protesters threw a heavy rock at him from a bridge died of his wounds and was buried on Tuesday. Another Jewish resident who was stabbed and severely wounded a week ago remained in hospital.

Similar scenes of violence played out in other mixed cities and Arab towns, including Acre and Haifa, long proud of their relations with their neighbors. Jews beat a driver who was presumed to be Arab almost to death in a Tel Aviv suburb.

“I believe we can get back to where we were before,” said Avi Rokach, a leader of the religious community in Lod. “But it might take some time.”

Rami Salama, an Arab resident of a mixed Lod neighborhood that was worst hit by the violence, said, “I only want peace and love here, really.”

But he said he feared that peace might prove elusive as people seek vengeance for the violence and blood demands more blood.

These images capture some of the destruction and loss in 11 days of conflict between Israel and Hamas.

Since May 10, fighting has left more than 200 people dead in Israel and the Palestinian territories. Most are Palestinians killed by Israeli airstrikes in the Gaza Strip, a densely packed coastal enclave of about two million people, while deadly unrest has also flared in the West Bank and Israel. Explore the toll of the violence in this multimedia report.

Running for shelter in Tel Aviv last week as Hamas fired rockets from Gaza.
Credit…Dan Balilty for The New York Times

Tel Aviv has long rejoiced in its reputation as a secular, largely liberal city, where drag queens, women in head scarves, and men in skullcaps walk the same streets and the tumult of Israeli politics can be easily set aside in favor of an oversized beachside margarita.

But in recent days the strife between Israel and Hamas has laid bare the fragility of the city’s bubble. A barrage of thousands of rockets has frayed nerves, even in a place conditioned by decades of war and protected by Israel’s Iron Dome antimissile system.

New York Times correspondents across Israel, including Tel Aviv, its commercial center, spoke to Israelis of various ages on Thursday to take the temperature on the ground.

“My personal feeling is that this operation is justified,” said Jonathan Navon, 25, an engineering student from Tel Aviv. “I can say that as a civilian living in Tel Aviv who spent three consecutive days in shelters, we really feel attacked by a terror organization.”

Mr. Navon’s sentiment echoed that of many Israelis who have been posting on social media about the fright of hearing the sound of missiles and antimissile defenses exploding as well as the terror of calculating the time it would take to get to a shelter.

Although the streets are less crowded than usual, Tel Aviv residents said they were trying to maintain a veneer of normalcy, including going to work. But there is an edginess in the air.

Beyond the visceral fear of incoming rockets, the conflict can be polarizing when it comes to apportioning blame.

Some Israelis have criticized Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for fanning the recent tensions in Jerusalem among the police, right-wing Israelis and Palestinian protesters that boiled over into conflict. But Israelis on both the left and right said they supported the government’s goal of disabling Hamas.

The conflict has spurred an international backlash against Israel, with condemnation by political leaders and pro-Palestinian protesters taking to the streets in Paris, London, Montreal and elsewhere, and castigating Israel for killing civilians, including more than 60 children.

Mr. Navon said he was frustrated by efforts to try to prosecute Israel on social media. “These attempts to simplify and flatten this entire conflict to one or two sentences on a story in Instagram is a mistake, misses the point and mainly deceives people,” he said.

Amir Efrimi, 54, a designer from Tzur Hadassah, a town southwest of Jerusalem, blamed Mr. Netanyahu for aggravating tensions in Jerusalem. But he, too, pushed back against criticism of Israel.

“We have been in these situations before where horrible footage is screened on TV, but I have never gotten condemnations from regular people in other countries,” he said, blaming outspoken interest groups. “I have stopped worrying about them,” he added.

As diplomacy aimed at stopping hostilities grows more feverish with each passing day, some Israelis appeared divided on wisdom of declaring a cease-fire.

Noga Kolonski, 18, a student at the Jerusalem High School for the Arts, said that it didn’t make sense to wait any longer, with the trials of the coronavirus pandemic having been quickly supplanted by the need to run for a bomb shelter.

“We have to give people a moment to live,” she said.

But Hen Shmidman, 16, a student at a religious school who lives in a Jewish settlement south of Jerusalem, was adamant that Israel’s offensive should continue. “It’s just an endless cycle, and we have to break the cycle and finish it,” he said. “We have to take down Hamas.”

Dan Bilefsky, Irit Pazner Garshowitz, Myra Noveck and

Riad Ishkontana, 42, kissed his daughter, Suzy, 7, at Shifa Hospital in Gaza City on Tuesday. They were pulled from the rubble of their home after an Israeli airstrike killed his wife and their four other children.
Credit…Abdel Kareem Hana/Associated Press

GAZA CITY — Riad Ishkontana had promised his children that their building on Al Wahida Street was safe, though for Zein, his 2-year-old son, the thunder of the airstrikes spoke louder than his reassurances.

The Israelis had never bombed the neighborhood before, he told them. Theirs was a comfortable, tranquil area by Gaza City standards, full of professionals and shops, nothing military. The explosions were still far away. To soothe them all, he started calling home “the house of safety.”

Mr. Ishkontana, 42, tried to believe it, too, though around them the death toll was climbing — not by inches, but by leaps, by housefuls, by families.

He was still telling the children about their house of safety all the way up until after midnight early Sunday morning, when he and his wife were watching more plumes of gray smoke rising from Gaza on television. She went to put the five children to bed. For all his attempts at comforting them, the family felt more secure sleeping all together in the boys’ room in the middle of the third-floor apartment.

Then a flash of bright light, and the building swayed. He said he rushed toward the boys’ room. Boom. The last thing he saw before the floor gave way beneath him and the walls fell on him, then a concrete pillar, then the roof, was his wife pulling at the mattress where she had already tucked in three of their children, trying to drag it out.

“My kids!” she was screaming, but the doorway was too narrow. “My kids!”

Activists in support of Palestinians gathered on the National Mall in Washi­ngton on Saturday.
Credit…Stefani Reynolds for The New York Times

As violence racks the Middle East, turmoil of a different kind is growing in the United States. Many young American Jews are confronting the region’s longstanding strife in a very different context, with very different pressures, from their parents’ and grandparents’ generations.

The Israel of their lifetime has been powerful, no longer appearing to some to be under constant existential threat. The violence comes after a year when mass protests across the United States have changed how many Americans see racial and social justice. The pro-Palestinian position has become more common, with prominent progressive members of Congress offering impassioned speeches in defense of the Palestinians.

At the same time, reports of anti-Semitism are rising across the country.

Many Jews in America remain unreservedly supportive of Israel and its government. Still, the events of recent weeks have left some families struggling to navigate both the crisis abroad and the wide-ranging response from American Jews at home. What is at stake is not just geopolitical, but deeply personal.

“It is an identity crisis,” said Dan Kleinman, 33, who grew up in Brooklyn. “Very small in comparison to what is happening in Gaza and the West Bank, but it is still something very strange and weird.”

Israeli-born Filipino children with their families at a 2019 protest in Tel Aviv over the deportation of undocumented foreign workers.
Credit…Abir Sultan/EPA, via Shutterstock

The government of the Philippines, one of the largest sources of foreign labor in Israel, said on Thursday that it would temporarily stop sending its citizens to work there because of the conflict.

The announcement came a day after a rocket attack by Hamas militants killed two Thai agricultural workers and wounded at least seven others at a packaging house in southern Israel. A week earlier, a Hamas strike killed an Indian woman who worked as a caregiver in the city of Ashkelon.

The Philippines’ labor secretary, Silvestre Bello III, told the ABS-CBN news network that it would not allow workers to travel to Israel “until we can ensure their safety.”

“As of now we won’t be deploying workers,” he said, adding: “As we can see, there’s bombing everywhere. If we deploy, it would be difficult — it would be my responsibility.”

About 30,000 Filipinos work in Israel, mostly as domestic workers and as caregivers for older or disabled Israelis. They are part of a large labor force of more than 200,000 foreigners who work in primarily low-wage jobs in sectors like construction and agriculture.

Investigations by news outlets and rights groups have highlighted these workers’ accusations of underpayment, crowded living conditions and occupational hazards. Filipino workers, most of whom are female, risk deportation if they marry or give birth, both of which are forbidden under Israeli laws governing foreign workers.

Yet more Filipinos are applying to work in Israel, where they earn higher salaries than they could at home, and demand for their services is increasing. The Israeli government recently relaxed educational requirements for overseas caregivers, and 400 Filipinos were set to travel to Israel until the Philippine government announced the pause.

No Filipino has been injured since fighting between Israel and Hamas militants began on May 10, officials said. The Philippine government has said that it is prepared to bring its citizens home from Israel amid the conflict, but that none have expressed interest.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel said in a briefing on Wednesday that the recent deaths of the foreign workers were “one more manifestation of the fact that Hamas indiscriminately targets everyone.”

Israel has likewise been criticized for military airstrikes in Gaza that have killed more than 230 Palestinians and wounded more than 1,600 since May 10.

The Aqsa Mosque compound in Jerusalem.
Credit…Ahmad Gharabli/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Our Jerusalem bureau chief, Patrick Kingsley, examined the events that have led to the past week’s violence, the worst between Israelis and Palestinians in years. A little-noticed police action in Jerusalem was among them. He writes:

Twenty-seven days before the first rocket was fired from Gaza this week, a squad of Israeli police officers entered the Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem, brushed the Palestinian attendants aside and strode across its vast limestone courtyard. Then they cut the cables to the loudspeakers that broadcast prayers to the faithful from four medieval minarets.

It was the night of April 13, the first day of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan. It was also Memorial Day in Israel, which honors those who died fighting for the country. The Israeli president was delivering a speech at the Western Wall, a sacred Jewish site that lies below the mosque, and Israeli officials were concerned that the prayers would drown it out.

Here is his full account of that night and the events that later unfolded.


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