Smoke rises above buildings in Gaza City after during an Israeli air strike on May 13
Gaza City (Palestinian Territories) (AFP) - A ceasefire was finally in sight in and around the Gaza Strip Saturday after five days of cross-border exchanges that have killed at least 33 Palestinians in Gaza and two people in Israel.
The truce was due to take effect at 1900 GMT Saturday, Egyptian and Palestinian sources said.
AFP correspondents witnessed new rocket fire from Gaza just 45 minutes before the truce was supposed to start.
Egypt, a longtime mediator in Gaza, secured the agreement of both Israel and the Palestinians to its latest proposal, an Egyptian security official said.
A Palestinian source confirmed their agreement. An Israeli government official declined to comment.
Smoke and debris fly over a building hit by an Israeli air strike in Beit Hanun in the northern Gaza Strip
On Saturday, Israel had again pounded Gaza with air strikes targeting Palestinian militant group Islamic Jihad following a new barrage of rocket fire into Israel to mark the funeral of its military commander Iyad al-Hassani, who was killed on Friday.
- What have we done? -
For days, life in Gaza and in Israeli communities near the border has been a daily routine of air strikes and sirens warning of incoming rocket fire.
Residents in the crowded Gaza Strip cowered indoors as the fighting raged, with streets empty and only a few shops and pharmacies open.
“The whole Palestinian people are suffering,” Muhammad Muhanna, 58, told AFP in the ruins of his home. “What have we done?”
In Deir al-Balah in the central Gaza Strip, a dead donkey lay in the ruins of a row of buildings levelled in an Israeli strike.
“No one is safe in their homes,” said Imad Rayan, 64.
An Israeli air strike flattens a house in Gaza City
There had been mounting calls for a ceasefire to be agreed, including from Israel’s closest ally, the United States.
US Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman, in a call to Israeli Strategic Affairs Minister Ron Dermer, “stressed the urgency of reaching a ceasefire agreement in order to prevent any further loss of civilian life”, the State Department said.
Egypt had kept up its mediation effort despite repeated setbacks.
On Saturday, shrapnel from a rocket fired from Gaza hit a building site in Sdot Negev, just over the border into Israel, killing one man and wounding another. Both were day labourers from Gaza.
Islamic Jihad said its fighters were pursuing “missile strikes on Israeli cities” in revenge for Israeli “assassinations” of their commanders and strikes on populated areas.
The exchange of fire came after the Palestinian health ministry reported the death of two men aged 19 and 32 in an Israeli army raid on a refugee camp in the occupied West Bank city of Nablus.
The Israeli army said it was a “counterterrorism” operation targeting operatives who had been planning attacks on soldiers.
Map locating Israel, the West Bank and the Gaza Strip
The Fatah movement of Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas said the two men killed in the raid were members of its armed wing, the Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades.
Palestinian prime minister Mohammed Shtayyeh “demanded UN intervention to stop Israeli crimes against our people in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank,” his office said.
- Deadliest fighting since August -
The current bout of violence erupted on Tuesday when Israeli strikes on Gaza killed three leading Islamic Jihad members. Three other senior figures from the Palestinian militant group were killed in later strikes.
The current bout of violence erupted on Tuesday when Israeli air strikes on Gaza killed three leading Islamic Jihad members
They are among at least 33 lives lost in the fighting inside Gaza, according to the territory’s health ministry.
There have been two deaths in Israel, one of them the Gazan day labourer.
The army said nearly 1,100 rockets had been fired from Gaza towards Israel in the current fighting, including 300 intercepted by its air defences.
Gaza, a coastal enclave that is home to 2.3 million Palestinians, has been plagued by poverty and unemployment since Israel imposed a blockade in 2007 when the Islamist movement Hamas took control.
The territory has seen numerous wars between militant groups and Israel since the Hamas takeover.
This week’s fighting was the worst in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict since an August flare-up that killed nearly 50 Palestinians.
The conflict has escalated since veteran Israeli politician Benjamin Netanyahu returned to power late last year, heading a coalition with extreme right and ultra-Orthodox parties.