Updated May 20, 2021 - World

Israel and Hamas approve ceasefire in Gaza

The aftermath. Photo: Ahmed Zakot/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty

Tel Aviv — President Biden welcomed the imminent ceasefire between Israel and Hamas after eleven days of fighting in a White House statement on Thursday.

The state of play: Israel's Security Cabinet voted earlier Thursday evening to approve the ceasefire, which is set to go into effect at 2am local time (7pm ET). Hamas also backed the ceasefire, but the sides have issued sharply contrasting messages about its terms.

  • The Israeli prime minister’s office said the “mutual and unconditional ceasefire" was a straightforward “quiet for quiet" agreement, though both Israel and Hamas had accepted Egypt’s proposal to discuss more Gaza-related issues at a later stage.
  • But several Hamas officials claimed the ceasefire agreement included commitments about Israeli policy in Jerusalem — including policing at the Al-Aqsa mosque and the possible evictions of Palestinians from East Jerusalem in favor of Jewish settlers — which a senior Israel official flatly denied in a comment to Axios.
  • Background: The current escalation began last Monday in Jerusalem after Israeli police raided the al-Aqsa Mosque compound, or Temple Mount, where Palestinians had been protesting the potential evictions. After the raid, Hamas fired rockets on Israel.

What's next: Egypt, which negotiated the ceasefire with both parties, announced that a security delegation would travel to Gaza and Israel to monitor and help stabilize the ceasefire.

Driving the news: Both sides intensified their attacks over the last 24 hours in anticipation of a ceasefire. Gaza health officials say at least 232 Palestinians have been killed since the beginning of the crisis, including 65 children. Twelve people have been killed in Israel.

  • Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had been under growing international pressure to approve a ceasefire, including from the Biden administration, but had insisted up to now that Israel needed additional time to complete its military objectives in Gaza.
  • Biden was criticized from many in his own party for declining to publicly call for a ceasefire earlier in the crisis, but the White House argued that its strategy of quiet diplomacy would be more effective.
  • Biden held his first phone call with Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi before the ceasefire was announced on Thursday. He also spoke with Netanyahu for what he said was the sixth time during the crisis, and praised the Israeli prime minister for seeking a ceasefire.

Behind the scenes: The Israeli Security Cabinet's decision to back the ceasefire was unanimous.

  • According to an official who attended the cabinet meeting, the chiefs of the Israel Defense Forces and the Shin-Bet intelligence service both recommended ending the operation, contending that its objectives had been achieved and two or three additional days of fighting would not lead to further gains.
  • The message from the security chiefs, the source says, was “we are done."

What they're saying:

  • The Israeli security chiefs briefed the cabinet ministers that Hamas' military capabilities were badly damaged — including the group's most sensitive assets like drones, anti-tank units, tunnels and tools for intelligence gathering and electronic warfare. Hamas still has a stockpile of rockets capable of reaching Tel Aviv, the officials said, but its rocket systems were damaged as well.
  • A senior Hamas official in Lebanon, Osama Hamdan, told Al-Mayadeen Television that Hamas received guaranties from the Egyptian mediators that the Israeli aggression in Gaza and Jerusalem would stop. “We won and created a new equation with Israel," he claimed.

Biden said in his televised statement that the U.S. would work with the UN to give humanitarian assistance to the people of Gaza and help with the reconstruction process.

  • “We will do it together with the Palestinian Authority not with Hamas and in a way that will not allow Hamas to re-arm," Biden said. That's a difficult proposition since Hamas controls Gaza.
  • Biden also said he was committed to replenishing Israel's Iron Dome aerial defense system after the crisis, which could mean additional U.S. military aid to Israel.
  • Biden stressed that there was an opportunity to make progress in the Israeli-Palestinian peace process and that he is committed to use it. Few leaders in the region share his optimism.

Worth noting: Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz updated Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin about the ceasefire in a call on Thursday evening. Gantz thanked Austin for the U.S. support during the operation and stressed that he hopes the ceasefire will hold, the Israel ministry of defense said in a statement.

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