• Israel and Hamas declared a ceasefire starting at 2am today, with no rocket fire or airstrikes reported since 
  • Both sides declared victory, with Netanyahu boasting of ‘significant achievements’ destroying Hamas tunnels and mosque loudspeakers in Gaza proclaiming ‘victory of the resistance over the occupation [Israel]’ 
  • Leaders were quick to praise the Egyptian-brokered ceasefire, with Biden hailing ‘an opportunity for progress’
  • But at home Netanyahu faced angry accusations that the operation had stopped too soon, with the IDF failing to take out any of its top targets among Hamas’s leaders 

By CHRIS PLEASANCE  and HENRY MARTIN FOR MAILONLINE

PUBLISHED: 05:30 AEST, 21 May 2021 | UPDATED: 18:25 AEST, 21 May 2021

Fighting broke out on May 10 after days of clashes between Palestinians and Israeli security forces around the Al-Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem, which prompted Hamas to fire a rocket salvo at Israel (pictured)

Wild celebrations broke out on the streets of Gaza overnight after Israel and Hamas declared a ceasefire – bringing to an end 11 days of fighting that left 244 people dead.

The ceasefire came into effect at 2am with both sides claiming victory. Benjamin Netanyahu boasted of ‘significant achievements’ in destroying Hamas tunnels and rocket batteries, while mosque loudspeakers in Gaza hailed ‘the victory of the resistance achieved over the occupation [Israel] during the battle of the Sword of Jerusalem’.

Both sides issued threats to resume hostilities if the situation changes – with Hamas saying ‘our finger is on the trigger’ and Israel warning ‘the reality on the ground will determine the future of the campaign’. But as dawn broke on Friday the truce held, with no rocket fire or airstrikes reported in the early hours. 

World leaders – who have been pushing for days for an end to the fighting – were quick to hail the Egyptian-brokered ceasefire, with US President Joe Biden speaking of a ‘genuine opportunity to make progress’ and UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson urging leaders to ‘work to find a durable solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.’

But in Israel, Netanyahu face angry accusations from his own supporters that the operation had stopped too soon, with the IDF failing to take out any of Hamas’s top leaders. The military did manage to kill Hussam Abu Harbid – one of the leaders of Palestinian Islamic Jihad, a terror group which operates in Gaza.

Fighting – the fiercest between the two sides since the 2014 war – broke out on May 10 after days of skirmishes between Palestinians and Israeli security forces in Jerusalem, centered around the Al-Aqsa mosque.

After a day of particularly fierce clashes Hamas had ordered Israeli police to move away from the mosque, then opened fire with rockets. Israel responded with artillery fire and airstrikes, with the two sides exchanging fire around the clock for almost two weeks.

As the dust settles both sides will now count the cost. In total, 232 Palestinians were killed including 65 children and 35 women, while 12 people including two children died in Israel. 

Israel said its airstrikes destroyed more than 60 miles of Hamas tunnels, along with rocket batteries and a ‘suicide submarine’. It also shot down drones and its Iron Dome defences destroyed thousands of Hamas missiles.

Hamas attacks largely destroyed civilian targets, including homes and a factory.   

Palestinians celebrated on the streets of Gaza overnight after Hamas and Israel declared a ceasefire starting from 2am, bringing to an end 11 days of fighting that killed 244 peoplePalestinians celebrated on the streets of Gaza overnight after Hamas and Israel declared a ceasefire starting from 2am, bringing to an end 11 days of fighting that killed 244 people

Gaza has been pounded by nightly airstrikes since May 10 that have largely kept Palestinians inside their homes, but thousands flooded the streets to celebrate in the early hours of Friday as fighting stopped+42

Gaza has been pounded by nightly airstrikes since May 10 that have largely kept Palestinians inside their homes, but thousands flooded the streets to celebrate in the early hours of Friday as fighting stoppedPeople fired guns into the air and shouted 'Allahu Akbar' as mosque loudspeakers proclaimed 'victory over the occupation [Israel]' amid jubilant scenes in Gaza overnight+42

Palestinians gather for a celebration after 'mutual and simultaneous' cease-fire deal between Israel and Hamas reached with Egypt mediation took effect at 2am Friday+42

A Palestinian man drives through the streets of Gaza, brandishing a machine-gun out of his car window as his children make V for victory signs while poking their heads out of the sunroof

A Palestinian man drives through the streets of Gaza, brandishing a machine-gun out of his car window as his children make V for victory signs while poking their heads out of the sunroofPalestinians celebrate in the streets following a ceasefire, in the southern Gaza StripPalestinians celebrate in the streets following a ceasefire, in the southern Gaza StripPalestinians celebrate in the streets following a ceasefire, in the southern Gaza Strip+42

  • Palestinians celebrate in the streets following a ceasefire, in the southern Gaza StripPalestinians take the streets after "mutual and simultaneous" cease-fire deal between Israel and Hamas reached with Egypt mediation took effect+42

Palestinians take the streets after ‘mutual and simultaneous’ cease-fire deal between Israel and Hamas reached with Egypt mediation took effectPalestinians gather for a celebration after "mutual and simultaneous" cease-fire deal between Israel and Hamas reached with Egypt mediation took effect+42

People take to the streets to celebrate following a ceasefire brokered by Egypt between Israel and the ruling Islamist movement Hamas in the Gaza StripPalestinians celebrate in the streets following a ceasefire, in the southern Gaza Strip+42

The decision came after heavy US pressure to halt the offensive. 

President Joe Biden on Thursday hailed the impending cease-fire in the fighting between Israel and Hamas, saying he sees a ‘genuine opportunity’ toward the larger goal of building a lasting peace in the Middle East.

Biden credited the Egyptian government with playing a crucial role in brokering the cease-fire and said he and top White House aides were intensely involved in an ‘hour by hour’ effort to stop the bloodletting. 

‘I believe the Palestinians and Israelis equally deserve to live safely and securely and enjoy equal measures of freedom, prosperity and democracy,’ Biden said. ‘My administration will continue our quiet, relentless diplomacy toward that.’

Britain welcomed a ceasefire announced by Israel and Hamas and called on all sides to work to make it durable and ‘end the unacceptable cycle of violence’ in the region.

‘All sides must work to make the ceasefire durable and end the unacceptable cycle of violence and loss of civilian life,’ UK Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said on Twitter, adding that Britain supports ‘efforts to bring about peace’.

Egyptian President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi in a tweet early on Friday thanked U.S. President Joe Biden for his role in making the Egyptian initiative for a ceasefire in Gaza succeed.

Sisi said he and President Biden both saw the urgency of managing the conflict between all parties with diplomacy.

Egyptian efforts to broker a ceasefire between Israelis and Palestinians went into effect early on Friday.

Israel had launched hundreds of airstrikes that it says have targeted Hamas’ infrastructure, including a vast tunnel network.

Hamas and other militant groups embedded in residential areas have fired more than 4,000 rockets at Israeli cities, with hundreds falling short and most of the rest intercepted. 

Rocket attacks by Hamas and allied Islamic Jihad had resumed after an eight-hour pause on Thursday, as Israel continued shelling that it said aimed to destroy the factions’ military capabilities and deter them from future confrontation after the current conflict.Palestinians celebrate in the streets following a ceasefire, in the southern Gaza Strip on May 21Palestinians celebrate in the streets following a ceasefire, in the southern Gaza Strip on May 21Palestinians celebrate the cease-fire agreement between Israel and Hamas on May 21, in Gaza City

PRESIDENT BIDEN WELCOMES CEASE-FIRE IN ISRAEL 

President Joe Biden on Thursday hailed the impending cease-fire in the fighting between Israel and Hamas, saying he sees a ‘genuine opportunity’ toward the larger goal of building a lasting peace in the Middle East.

Biden credited the Egyptian government with playing a crucial role in brokering the cease-fire and said he and top White House aides were intensely involved in an ‘hour by hour’ effort to stop the bloodletting.

‘I believe the Palestinians and Israelis equally deserve to live safely and securely and enjoy equal measures of freedom, prosperity and democracy,’ Biden said. ‘My administration will continue our quiet, relentless diplomacy toward that.’

The president spoke soon after Israel and Hamas announced a cease-fire would go into effect at 2 a.m. Friday, ending an 11-day war that caused widespread destruction in the Gaza Strip and brought life in much of Israel to a halt. The fighting killed at least 227 in Gaza and 12 in Israel.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office said Israel accepted the Egyptian proposal after a late-night meeting of his Security Cabinet. Hamas quickly followed suit and said it would honor the deal.

Biden, who spoke to Netanyahu six times in the last 11 days, said Thursday the prime minister credited the Iron Dome missile defense system with limiting the death toll inside Israel. The system is designed to intercept and destroy short-range rockets and artillery shells. Biden said he assured Netanyahu that his administration would work to quickly restock the missile defense system

Biden credited the Egyptian government with playing a crucial role in brokering the cease-fire and said he and top White House aides were intensely involved in an ‘hour by hour’ effort to stop the bloodletting

The cease-fire was announced one day after Biden told Netanyahu in a telephone call that he expected ‘significant de-escalation’ of the fighting by day’s end, according to the White House. But the prime minister came right back with a public declaration that he was ‘determined to continue’ the Gaza operation ‘until its objective is achieved.’

Hours before the cease-fire agreement was reached, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said the Israelis had ‘achieved significant military objectives’ in their strikes intended to degrade Hamas military capabilities and reiterated that Biden expected the Israelis to start ‘winding down’ their operations.

‘We believe the Israelis have achieved significant military objectives that they laid out to achieve in relation to protecting their people and to responding to the thousands of rocket attacks from Hamas,’ Psaki said.

Biden, who studiously avoided extensive public comment about the Israeli military strikes through the 11-day conflict, was facing mounting pressure from fellow Democrats to speak out against the Israelis as the death toll climbed in Gaza and tens of thousands of Palestinians were displaced by the aerial bombardment.

Throughout the crisis, Biden, in carefully-worded statements and brief exchanges with reporters, underscored Israel’s right to defend itself. But as the death toll and suffering of innocent bystanders in Gaza spread, the position was becoming more difficult to sustain with his Democratic caucus and the international community.

On Tuesday, while in Michigan to visit a Ford facility, Democratic Rep. Rashida Tlaib confronted Biden on the Detroit airport tarmac and called on him to speak out forcefully against the Israeli strikes. Meanwhile, Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York introduced resolutions to block the sale of $735 million in military weaponry to Israel that’s already been approved by the Biden administration.

As the outside calls for Biden to speak more forcefully grew, Biden and top aides privately made the case to Israeli officials that time wasn’t on their side in the court of public opinion.

Administration officials pointed to Hezbollah’s stature rising in the region after their 34-day war with Israel in 2006 to make the case for limiting the time of the military action. Israeli officials pushed back that a slightly prolonged campaign to degrade Hamas’ military capabilities was necessary and in their interest, according a person familiar with the talks who was not authorized to discuss them publicly.

Hamas had sought to portray their rocket barrages as a defense of Jerusalem. Israeli officials made the case to the White House that Hamas’ message lost resonance as mob violence against Arabs in mixed Israeli cities, including Lod, was tamped down.

Biden, in his remarks Thursday, reiterated that United States continues to ‘fully support Israel’s right to defend itself against indiscriminate rocket attacks’ by Hamas and other Gaza-based militants.

Biden also offered condolences for Palestinian lives lost during the conflict and vowed humanitarian aid would quickly flow through the Palestinian Authority, which is in control of the West Bank but not Gaza.

‘We will do this in full partnership with the Palestinian Authority, not Hamas … and in a manner that does not permit Hamas to simply restock its military arsenal,’ Biden said.ADVERTISEMENT

‘The political leaders emphasized that the reality on the ground will determine the future of the campaign,’ the statement said.

Taher Nounou, a Hamas official, confirmed the deal. ‘The Palestinian resistance will commit itself to this deal as long as the occupation is committed,’ he said.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Thursday he would be prepared to travel to the Middle East, as he headed home from an Arctic tour overshadowed by Israeli-Palestinian fighting.  

‘I am prepared at any time to go to Israel, to the Middle East, if that would serve the purpose of moving beyond the violence and helping to work on improving lives for Israelis and Palestinians alike,’ Blinken said at a press conference in Greenland.

He said that he had pushed for a ‘de-escalation on the path to a ceasefire’ in a phone call with Israeli Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi.

The Israeli-Palestinian conflict had topped journalists’ questions at Blinken’s public appearances in Denmark and at the Arctic Council in Iceland, where he also met his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov.

He spoke to leaders on both sides, as well as from Arab nations with influence over Hamas, from hotel rooms and the aeroplane in the scramble for a ceasefire.

Now ‘if there’s a good time’ to travel to the Middle East ‘that’s certainly something I intend to do,’ Blinken said without naming a date

White House press secretary Jen Psaki said reports of a move toward a ceasefire were ‘clearly encouraging’.

She said the US was trying ‘to do everything we can to bring an end to the conflict’.

Earlier, Israel had unleashed a new wave of airstrikes across the Gaza Strip as Hamas fired more rockets into Israel.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said he spoke to Israeli Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi by phone on Thursday during a visit to Greenland, and reiterated the message that the United States expects to see a ‘de-escalation on the path to a ceasefire’ between Israel and the Palestinians.

Blinken said there was a deep and shared concern around the world for the deaths of Palestinians and Israelis and Washington’s goal remains to end the violence.

The public broadcaster Kan said the fighting was to halt immediately, while other TV channels said it would go into effect at 2am.

There was no immediate reaction from Hamas.  

It comes after Israel had unleashed a new wave of airstrikes across the Gaza Strip on Thursday and Hamas fired more rockets into Israel, despite growing signs that the sides were close to a cease-fire that would end 11 days of heavy fighting.

In an apparent sign of progress, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu convened an emergency meeting of his Security Cabinet, where the issue of a cease-fire was expected to be debated.

An Egyptian official said Israel has informed his government, which is mediating a truce, that it intends to end its military operations in Gaza. Speaking on condition of anonymity because he was discussing behind-the-scenes diplomacy, he said an announcement was expected following the Security Cabinet meeting.

The official spoke shortly after Egypt’s President Abdel Fattah el-Sissi talked by phone with President Joe Biden. The two leaders discussed ways to stop violence in the Palestinian Territories, el-Sissi’s office said.

In Washington, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said reports of a move toward a ceasefire were ‘clearly encouraging.’ She said the U.S. was trying ‘to do everything we can to bring an end to the conflict.’

With U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres urging an immediate cease-fire, a U.N. Mideast envoy was in the Gulf state of Qatar to help with efforts to restore calm, a diplomatic official said. 

Energy-rich Qatar often helps mediate between Israel and Hamas and has donated hundreds of millions of dollars for development and humanitarian projects in Gaza in recent years. 

The diplomat spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss the matter with the media.

Osama Hamdan, a top Hamas official based in Lebanon, also said he expected a cease-fire within the coming day.

Biden on Wednesday publicly pressed Netanyahu to wind down the operation. The Israeli leader initially pushed back, appearing determined to inflict maximum damage on Hamas in a war that could help save his political career. 

But by Thursday evening, Israeli media were reporting that a cease-fire agreement was expected to take effect by early Friday, perhaps sooner.

Despite the signs of progress, fighting continued into the evening, with Israeli airstrikes on targets in Gaza and Palestinian militants firing rockets toward Israeli cities. In past rounds of violence, fighting has picked up in the final hours, with each side trying to eke out a final achievement before a cease-fire went into effect.

Earlier Thursday, explosions shook Gaza City and orange flares lit up the pre-dawn sky, with bombing raids also reported in the central town of Deir al-Balah and the southern town of Khan Younis. 

As the sun rose, residents surveyed the rubble from at least five family homes destroyed in Khan Younis. Heavy airstrikes also hit a commercial thoroughfare in Gaza City.

The Israeli military said it struck at least three homes of Hamas commanders in Khan Younis and another in Rafah, targeting ‘military infrastructure,’ as well as a weapons storage unit at a home in Gaza City.

On Wednesday, Biden told Israel on Wednesday that he expected ‘a significant de-escalation today on the path to a cease-fire’ – but Netanyahu pushed back, saying he was ‘determined to continue this operation until its aim is met.’ 

Palestinians gather for a celebration after ‘mutual and simultaneous’ cease-fire deal between Israel and Hamas reached with Egypt mediation took effect

It marked the first public rift between the two close allies since the fighting began and posed a difficult test of the U.S.-Israel relationship early in Biden’s presidency.

Visiting the region, German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said Israel has ‘the right to defend itself against such unacceptable attacks.’ But he also expressed concern about the rising number of civilian victims and voiced support for truce efforts.

Even as the diplomatic efforts appeared to gather strength, an Israeli airstrike smashed into the Khawaldi family’s two-story house in Khan Younis, destroying it. 

The 11 residents, who were sleeping outside the home out of fear, were all hospitalized, said Shaker al-Khozondar, a neighbor.

Shrapnel also hit his own home, killing his aunt and wounding her daughter and two other relatives, he said. Al-Khozondar spoke from the bedroom where his aunt Hoda died. The windows were shattered and the bed pillows and rubble stained with blood.

Weam Fares, a spokesman for a nearby hospital, confirmed the death and said at least 10 people were wounded in strikes overnight.

Heavy airstrikes also pummeled a street in the Jabaliya refugee camp in northern Gaza, destroying ramshackle homes with corrugated metal roofs nearby. The military said it struck two underground launchers in the camp used to fire rockets at Tel Aviv.

The current round of fighting between Israel and Hamas began May 10, when the militant group fired long-range rockets toward Jerusalem after days of clashes between Palestinian protesters and Israeli police at the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound, a flashpoint site sacred to Jews and Muslims. 

Heavy-handed police tactics at the compound and the threatened eviction of dozens of Palestinian families by Jewish settlers had inflamed tensions.

Since then, Israel has launched hundreds of airstrikes that it says have targeted Hamas’ infrastructure, including a vast tunnel network. Hamas and other militant groups embedded in residential areas have fired over 4,000 rockets at Israeli cities, with hundreds falling short and most of the rest intercepted.