GAZA, Nov 14 – Hamas and other Palestinian militant groups have accepted an Egyptian-mediated agreement to halt two days of intense fighting with Israel sparked by a botched Israeli special forces raid miles inside Gaza.
The sudden announcement late on Tuesday brought a lull to the outbreak of violence in which both sides launched scores of bombings and reprisal attacks. Israeli civilians hid overnight in shelters from relentless rocket barrages and Palestinians cowered in basements from thundering airstrikes.
Hamas and other smaller militant groups released a statement saying they had accepted the deal brokered by the UN and Egypt.
There was no comment from Israel, but after nightfall, the rocket attacks and Israeli airstrikes had stopped.
Israel’s military said about 400 rockets and mortars had been fired fromGaza since Monday afternoon, possibly the highest concentration launched in such a period from the enclave, and its warplanes had carried out more than 100 bombings.
Medics in Gaza said five people had been killed, two of whom were militants. In the Israeli coastal city of Ashkelon, a 40-year-old civilian was killed when a rocket hit a building. It was later revealed that the man was a Palestinian from the occupied West Bank living in Israel. Twenty Israelis have been wounded in the latest bloodshed.
This latest violence, the most intense to date, erupted following Sunday’s Israeli raid. After being exposed at a militant checkpoint, the covert team killed a Hamas commander and fled in a helicopter, witnesses said. Seven Hamas fighters and an Israeli lieutenant colonel were killed in the chaos. Within hours, militants had launched rockets in response.
The extent of the attacks has been ratcheted up. Israel has previously focused on Hamas military positions in open areas but, by Tuesday, residents said three large residential buildings inside densely populated neighbourhoods of Gaza City were now rubble.
Jets bombed Hamas’s main internal security compound in Gaza but the Israel Defence Forces (IDF) said it had blown up sites used for civilian purposes, such as a Hamas-run television building and a structure it said was used for military purposes but also housed a kindergarten.
Residents in Gaza reported that Israel had launched low-yield munition warning strikes, what locals call “roof knocks”, on targets before bombing them. This gives civilians several minutes to clear the structure before it is destroyed and may account for the relatively low fatality count.
Shahira al-Rayes, 39, was asleep at home with her husband and two children in Gaza City when she was awakened by her neighbours, crying out that they had heard a “knock” on the building next door.
“When the building was bombed, we felt death. My children and I screamed and screamed,” she said by phone. “After we realised that the shelling was over, I went up to my apartment, trying hard to calm my children and get them back to sleep. I could not sleep until morning.”
In Ashkelon, north of Gaza, Revital Steinberg, a school counsellor, said she had slept in the living room with her daughters, eight and 11, to be closer to their fortified safe room.
“We pretended to camp in the living room. It was like a game,” she said. “The night was terrible. My 11-year-old was really worried about her classmates, messaging them on WhatsApp to try and calm and relax them. It’s not something you can get used to.”