Israel-Gaza: Israel and Hamas 'close to ceasefire deal'

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Smoke rises in northern Gaza after an Israeli air strike, 20 May 2021.Image source, EPA
Image caption,
Air strikes are continuing in Gaza

Israel and Hamas are close to a ceasefire deal to end fighting, reports say.

Sources familiar with truce talks have told the BBC that Israel has informed Egyptian mediators it will agree to end military action.

There has been no official confirmation of this from Israel where PM Benjamin Netanyahu is meeting his security cabinet.

Both sides are facing international pressure to end hostilities.

The Israeli security cabinet will vote on a proposed unilateral ceasefire that would take effect within 24 hours, Israel's public broadcaster Kan reported.

Earlier a senior Hamas official said he expected a ceasefire deal with Israel in "a day or two", while Mr Netanyahu on Wednesday vowed to continue the military operation until "calm and security are restored".

On Thursday more than 100 Israeli air strikes targeted Hamas infrastructure in the north of Gaza. Hamas retaliated with rocket fire.

Fighting began in Gaza on 10 May after weeks of rising Israeli-Palestinian tension in occupied East Jerusalem that culminated in clashes at a holy site revered by both Muslims and Jews. Hamas began firing rockets after warning Israel to withdraw from the site, triggering retaliatory air strikes.

At least 232 people, including more than 100 women and children, have been killed in Gaza so far, according to its Hamas-controlled health ministry. Israel has said at least 150 militants are among those killed in Gaza. Hamas does not give casualty figures for fighters.

In Israel 12 people, including two children, have been killed, its medical service says. Israel says some 4,000 rockets have been fired towards its territory by militants in Gaza.

Image source, Reuters
Image caption,
An Israeli soldier looks on as Israel's Iron Dome anti-missile system intercept rockets launched from the Gaza Strip

People involved in the discussions with the two sides also told the Wall Street Journal that a ceasefire could come as early as Friday. Egyptian officials have made headway in negotiations with Hamas's leadership, and the Israeli military has privately conceded that it is nearing the completion of its objectives, US and foreign officials are quoted as saying by the newspaper.

An Egyptian security source also told Reuters news agency the two sides had agreed in principle to a ceasefire after assistance from mediators but negotiations were still taking place.

However, Israeli Intelligence Minister Eli Cohen dismissed reports of a ceasefire beginning on Friday, telling Kan public radio: "We will finish the operation when we decide we have attained our goals."

On Wednesday, US President Joe Biden held his fourth call with Mr Netanyahu since the conflict started.

A statement released by the White House said Mr Biden had "conveyed to the prime minister that he expected a significant de-escalation today on the path to a ceasefire".

The latest bid for a UN Security Council resolution calling for a ceasefire, launched by France, failed on Wednesday when the US said it could "undermine efforts to de-escalate".

Media caption,

Ex-UN rapporteur John Dugard: US is not honest broker in Israel-Gaza conflict

The clock is clearly ticking

By Paul Adams, BBC diplomatic correspondent, Jerusalem

If Joe Biden was hoping for what he called a significant de-escalation in the conflict, he hasn't got it yet.

BBC colleagues in Gaza reported a long night of bombardment, from air and sea.

But there was an eight-hour lull in rocket attacks from Hamas, which could be seen as a step on President Biden's "road to a ceasefire."

Hamas officials sound confident that the fighting could end in the next day or two.

Rhetorically, at least, that's not the impression Israel wants to give. Expect to hear more talk of an operation continuing at "full throttle", with plenty of targets left to hit.

After speaking to President Biden yesterday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said he was "determined to continue this operation until its goal is achieved - to restore peace and security to you, the citizens of Israel. "

But the clock is clearly ticking. The Biden administration has signalled its impatience.

As they prepare to call a halt soon, Israeli officials are putting a positive gloss on the operation so far.

They say they've achieved more in the past 10 days than they did in seven weeks in 2014, without needing to send troops in on the ground.

As talks continue, the fighting has shown little sign of letting up.

Israel launched a series of air strikes on Gaza in the early hours of Thursday. Hamas-run radio said a woman had been killed and four children wounded in one attack on the town of Khan Younis.

Israel said it had targeted "multi-barrel rocket launching sites and aerial defence compounds" belonging to Hamas.

The Israel Defense Forces reported that after more than eight hours of quiet, rocket sirens sounded again in southern Israel on Thursday morning.

One anti-tank missile was fired at an empty Israeli military bus, leaving a soldier standing nearby with minor injuries, according to local media reports.

Timeline: How the violence escalated

The worst violence in years between Israel and the Palestinian territory of the Gaza Strip has seen dozens killed. It follows a month of spiralling tensions before open conflict broke out. Here is what happened in the lead-up to the fighting.

Israeli police officers detain a young Palestinian man at the Damascus Gate
Image caption Israeli police officers detain a young Palestinian man at the Damascus Gate Image copyright by Getty Images

Clashes erupt in East Jerusalem between Palestinians and Israeli police.

Palestinians are angry over barriers which had been placed outside the Damascus Gate entrance to the Jerusalem‘s Old City preventing them from gathering there after prayers at the Old City’s al-Aqsa Mosque on what is the first night of the Islamic holy month of Ramadan.

Palestinian discontent had been stoked earlier in the day when President Mahmoud Abbas called off planned elections, implicitly blaming Israel over voting arrangements for Palestinians in East Jerusalem.

Hamas - Mr Abbas' Islamist rivals who control Gaza and were running in the elections - react angrily to the postponement.

Violence around Damascus Gate and elsewhere in East Jerusalem continues nightly.

Rockets are fired from Gaza at Israel, which responds with air strikes after a relative period of calm between Israel and the Palestinian enclave.

Clashes spread to the mixed Arab-Jewish port city of Jaffa, next to Tel Aviv.

In Jerusalem, Jewish youths, angry over a spate of filmed assaults by Palestinians on Orthodox Jews posted on the TikTok video-sharing app, attack Arabs and chant anti-Arab slogans.

Israeli security forces clash with Palestinians outside the Damascus Gate
Image caption Israeli security forces clash with Palestinians outside the Damascus Gate Image copyright by Getty Images

Hundreds of ultra-nationalist Jews shouting “Death to Arabs” march towards Damascus Gate in protest at the Arab assaults on Jews. Clashes erupt at the site between Palestinians and police trying to separate the two groups, injuring dozens of people.

Violence between Arabs and Jews spreads to other parts of the city.

Militants fire dozens of rockets at Israel from Gaza, drawing retaliatory air strikes.

President Abbas' Fatah faction and Hamas condemn the looming threatened eviction of Palestinian families from their homes in the Sheikh Jarrah district of East Jerusalem by Jewish settlers ahead of a planned court hearing. Hamas calls on Arabs to form “human shields of resistance” there.

In the days that follow, police and protesters repeatedly clash at the site as it becomes a focal point for Palestinian anger.

Militants in Gaza begin sending incendiary balloons into Israel over successive days, causing dozens of fires.

Two Palestinian gunmen are shot dead and a third is wounded after opening fire on Israeli security forces in the northern West Bank. Israeli authorities say the group planned to carry out a “major attack” in Israel.

The al-Aqsa mosque has been a frequent flashpoint for violence
Image caption The al-Aqsa mosque has been a frequent flashpoint for violence Image copyright by Getty Images

Later on after Friday prayers - the last of Ramadan - major clashes erupt at the al-Aqsa mosque compound, injuring more than 200 people. Israel's police force says it used “riot dispersal means”, firing rubber bullets and stun grenades after officers came under a hail of stones and bottles.

A second night of violence erupts in East Jerusalem after tens of thousands of worshippers prayed at the al-Aqsa mosque for Laylat al-Qadr, the holiest night of Ramadan.

Police and protesters clash at Damascus Gate, with police using water cannon, rubber bullets and tear gas against crowds of Palestinians, some throwing stones.

More than 120 Palestinians and some 17 police are injured.

Israel's Supreme Court postpones the hearing on the Sheikh Jarrah case following calls to delay it because of the growing unrest. Tensions remain high though and more clashes take place between Israeli police and Palestinians in Sheikh Jarrah and at Damascus Gate.

Early morning clashes break out between police and Palestinians at the al-Aqsa mosque compound, where crowds throw stones and officers fire stun grenades.

Palestinian anger has been inflamed by an annual Jerusalem Day march planned for later in the day by hundreds of Israeli nationalists to celebrate Israel's capture of East Jerusalem in 1967.

The march is due to pass through predominantly Arab parts of the Old City in what is seen by Palestinians as a deliberate provocation. It is rerouted at the 11th hour, but the atmosphere remains volatile with more than 300 Palestinians and some 21 police injured in the violence at the holy site.

Hamas issues an ultimatum to Israel to “withdraw its soldiers... from the blessed al-Aqsa mosque and Sheikh Jarrah” by 18:00. When the deadline passes without an Israeli response, rockets are fired towards Jerusalem for the first time in years.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu says the group has “crossed a red line” and Israel retaliates with air strikes, killing three Hamas fighters.

A continuing exchange of rocket-fire and air strikes quickly escalates into the fiercest hostilities between the two sides since they fought a war in 2014.

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