After more than 1,500 airstrikes on terror targets in Gaza and more than 1,000 rockets launched toward Israel, Operation Pillar of Defense has come to a close: A ceasefire between Israel and Hamas went into effect at 9 pm Wednesday. In the last-minute burst of fire, Palestinian terrorists fired several bursts of rockets at south Israel, while the IDF responded with airstrikes and artillery fire on Gaza.
Rocket were fired toward Beersheba and the Bnei Shimon Regional Council just seconds before the truce took effect, and some projectiles were launched after the truce took effect.
IDF Spokesman Brigadier-General Yoav Mordechai confirmed that the ceasefire had taken effect at 9 pm in accordance with the political echelon's instructions. "The IDF has stopped firing at the Strip and will open fire only if our forces are put in danger," he said.
The IDF spokesman added that a decision on whether to release the reserve forces would be made on Thursday.
"The operation's goals have been achieved. Hamas suffered a serious blow and is in a great amount of distress. After the organization's leaders come out from their hiding places, they will see the extent of destruction. We understand from intelligence sources that Hamas is in distress."
According to Mordechai, time will tell what the deterrence did to Hamas. "We'll know within weeks or months. The chief of staff is in the south, issuing orders to the forces. We are alert and ready."
Hamas said that it has officially ordered its military wing to stop firing projectiles on Israel, but rockets continued to be fired from Gaza towards the south of the country after the ceasefire took effect.
Earlier, Egypt announced that a ceasefire had been reached to end the conflict between Israel
and the Palestinians. Heavy rocket barrages on south Israel followed the announcement, but there were no reports of injury.
Egyptian Foreign Minister Mohamed Kamel Amr made the announcement in a joint news conference with US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
would come into effect at 9 pm, Amr said.
"These efforts ... have resulted in understandings to cease fire and restore calm and halt the bloodshed that the last period has seen," Amr said.
The deal was brokered by the new Islamist government of Egypt, solidifying its role as a leader in the quickly shifting Middle East. Under the agreement, Egypt will play a key role in maintaining the peace.
Clinton said the ceasefire between Israel and the Palestinians in Gaza
had come at a crucial time for countries of the Middle East.
"This is a critical moment for the region. Egypt's new government is assuming the responsibility and leadership that has long made this country a cornerstone for regional stability and peace," she said at the joint news conference with her Egyptian counterpart.
'Improve conditions.' Clinton with Morsi (Photo: EPA)
She also thanked Egypt's Islamist President Mohammed Morsi
for his mediation efforts and pledged to work with partners in the region "to consolidate this progress, improve conditions for the people of Gaza, provide security for the people of Israel."
US President Barack Obama spoke
with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and
commended him for agreeing to the Egyptian ceasefire proposal. The American leader reiterated the US' commitment to Israel's security and pledged to seek funds for a joint missile defense program.
The Prime Minister's Office said Netanyahu told Obama that Israel is ready to give the ceasefire a chance, but warned that more forceful action might be needed if it fails.
"(Netanyahu) spoke a short while ago with President Barack Obama and agreed to his recommendation to give the Egyptian ceasefire proposal a chance, and in this way provide an opportunity to stabilise the situation and calm it before any more forceful action would be necessary," an Israeli statement said.
|Attack on rocket launching site in Gaza|
Israel launched the fierce Israeli offensive in Gaza on Nov. 14 to stop months of intensifying rocket attacks. Even after the deal was announced, air raid sirens continued to wail in southern Israel.
Israel launched well over 1,500 airstrikes and other attacks on targets in Gaza, while more than 1,000 rockets pounded Israel. In all, more than 140 Palestinians, including dozens of civilians, were killed, while five Israelis died in the fighting.
According to a copy of the agreement obtained by The Associated Press, Israel and all Palestinian militant groups agreed to halt "all hostilities." For the Palestinians, that means an end to Israeli airstrikes and assassinations of wanted militants. For Israel, it brings a halt to rocket fire and attempts at cross-border incursions from Gaza.
After a 24-hour cooling off period, it calls for "opening the crossings and facilitating the movement of people and transfer of goods, and refraining from restricting residents free movement."
Hamas members said details on the new border arrangements would have to be negotiated.
Israel imposed its blockade of Gaza after Hamas, a terror group sworn to Israel's destruction, seized control of the territory five years ago. It has gradually eased the closure, but continues to restrict the movement of certain goods through Israeli-controlled crossings. Among the restrictions: a near-complete ban on exports, limited movement of people leaving the territory, and limits on construction materials that Israel says could be used for military use.
The deal was vague on what limits Israel would lift, and whether Gaza's southern passenger terminal on the Egyptian border would be expanded to allow cargo to pass through as well. The deal was also unclear about a key Israeli demand for an end to arms smuggling into Gaza in tunnels underneath the border with Egypt.
Under the agreement, Egypt will play a key role. It said "Egypt shall receive assurances from each party" that they are committed to the deal.
"Each party shall commit itself not to perform any acts that would break this understanding," it adds. "In case of any observations, Egypt - as the sponsor of this understanding - shall be informed to follow up."
Reuters, AP contributed to the report