Moments ago, a ceasefire went into effect between Israel and Hamas. After 11 days of explosions, tonight should be quiet, Axios' Barak Ravid and I write.
The state of play: Israel's Security Cabinet voted earlier Thursday evening to approve the ceasefire, brokered by Egypt, which Hamas also backed. But the sides have issued sharply contrasting messages about its terms.
What they're saying:
- The Israeli prime minister’s office said the ceasefire was a straightforward “quiet for quiet" agreement, with Gaza-related issues to be discussed at a later stage.
- But several Hamas officials claimed it included commitments about Israeli policy in Jerusalem — including policing at the al-Aqsa mosque and the possible expulsions of Palestinians from East Jerusalem. A senior Israel official flatly denied that in a comment to Axios.
- Flashback: 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 looming expulsions. 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 he insisted up to now that Israel needed additional time to complete its military objectives in Gaza.
- President 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 al-Sisi before the ceasefire was announced on Thursday. He also spoke with Netanyahu for what he said was the sixth time during the crisis.
Behind the scenes: According to an official who attended the Israeli Security 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."
- The Israeli security chiefs briefed the Cabinet ministers that the full range of Hamas' military capabilities was badly damaged, though Hamas still has a stockpile of rockets capable of reaching Tel Aviv.
The other side: A senior Hamas official in Lebanon, Osama Hamdan, told Al Mayadeen TV 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 a televised statement before the ceasefire went into effect 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.
What to watch: Biden stressed that there is now an opening for progress in the Israeli-Palestinian peace process. Few leaders in the region share his optimism.