Ceasefire in Gaza after dozens killed in Israeli bombing

Palestinian officials announced a ceasefire in the Gaza Strip this morning after 24 Palestinians and four Israelis were killed in the worst fighting for five years.

The Israeli army on Monday lifted protective restrictions on residents in southern Israel, while Hamas’ Al-Aqsa TV in the Gaza Strip reported a ceasefire, signaling a deal had been reached to end the bloodiest fighting between Palestinians and Israelis since a 2014 war.

There was no official ceasefire announcement from either side, but the intense fighting over the past two days appeared to come to a sudden halt in the early morning hours.

Egypt brokered an agreement to cease hostilities from 4:30am (1:30am GMT), an official from Hamas, which controls the Gaza Strip, and another from its allied group Islamic Jihad said on condition of anonymity.

An Egyptian official also confirmed the deal on condition of anonymity.

The head of Hamas’ political bureau, Ismail Haniyeh, said in a statement on Sunday night that “returning to a state of calm is possible” if Israel committed to a “complete ceasefire”.

Without it, “the arena could face many rounds of confrontation”, he said.

An Israeli military spokeswoman declined to comment on the deal but the Israeli military announced that “as of 7am, all protective restrictions in the home front will be lifted”, referring to restrictions on the movement of civilians in southern Israel.

Schools and roads had been closed, and residents had been encouraged to remain indoors and near bomb shelters as hundreds of Palestinian rockets fell.

Israel faced strong pressure to put an end to the fighting as a number of anniversaries and events approached, despite Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s instructions to the Israeli military on Sunday “to continue its massive strikes on terror elements in the Gaza Strip”.

Israeli Memorial Day and Independence Day are on 8 May and 14 May respectively. Israel is also due to host the Eurovision Song Contest in Tel Aviv this week.

Palestinians commemorate the day after Israeli Independence Day as Nakba Day -= the anniversary of their forced displacement from their land. Palestinian Muslims also begin observing the holy month of Ramadan today.

The Gaza Strip had been subjected to intense Israeli strikes from the air and the sea since Saturday. The spokesman for the health ministry of the Hamas-led government in Gaza tweeted today that 24 Palestinians had been killed in the fighting. They include two pregnant woman and a 14-month old baby, Saba Abu Arar.

The Palestinian dead also included a commander for Hamas’ armed wing who Israel said it targeted due to his role in transferring money from Iran to militant groups in the Gaza Strip. It was a rare admission of a targeted killing by the Israeli army.

On the Israeli side, four civilians were killed by rockets fired by Palestinian armed groups.

The conflict broke out after four Palestinians were killed and two Israeli soldiers were wounded at a weekly demonstration held by Palestinians on the Gaza-Israel border.