Battles between Israeli forces and Palestinian militants in the southern Gaza Strip left at least 38 people dead, according to Palestinian officials. Israeli media reports said Israeli forces were fired upon by militants with grenades, and responded by calling in helicopter gunships and artillery fire. In addition, Israeli military says one of its soldiers may have been abducted.
Meanwhile, Palestinians sent fresh barrages of rockets and mortars into Israel, with the military reporting at least one projectile intercepted and seven falling into open areas.
Hostilities between the two sides had continued almost until the last minute before the lull took effect. Overnight, airstrikes pounded eastern and northern Gaza, close to the fence surrounding the enclave, and militants fired off more barrages of rockets into Israel.
But with word having spread quickly overnight of a cessation of hostilities, Palestinians quickly seized upon the respite, trekking to devastated neighborhoods that had been no-go zones due to heavy bombardment. Fishermen put out to sea in their small boats, slipping out of Gaza City’s small harbor for the first time in days.
Hamas policemen, out of sight for the past three weeks, took up traffic-cop duties, directing the cascade of cars and donkey carts that quickly formed bottlenecks on major arteries in Gaza City. And as always, there were dead to be buried and injured to be tended to.
Israel announced overnight that five soldiers had been killed a day earlier in a mortar strike just outside Gaza, where thousands of Israeli troops gather in staging areas not far from the fence surrounding the coastal strip. That brought the Israeli military death toll to 61.
The 24-day-old conflict has claimed more than 1,400 Palestinian lives, with 17 reported killed in overnight strikes, according to Palestinian health officials. Most of the dead are civilians, many women and children among them.
The rapidly mounting death toll — together with the heavy battering of Gaza’s already crumbling infrastructure — spurred mediators led by the United States and the United Nations to finally push through a deal after nearly two weeks of fruitless efforts.
Both sides received some of the incentives they had demanded: Israel was pushing ahead with the destruction of Palestinian “attack tunnels” that form an elaborate catacomb beneath Gaza and its borders; Hamas will be part of the Palestinian delegation that travels to talks in Cairo, which will also include the Palestinian Authority and the militant group Islamic Jihad.
While Hamas and Islamic Jihad swiftly announced their willingness to abide by the truce as long as Israel did, Netanyahu’s government waited until just a few hours before the cease-fire took effect to formally confirm it. Netanyahu had asserted repeatedly prior to the truce announcement that Israel would not accept terms that precluded operations to destroy the tunnels.
Los Angeles Times staff writer King reported from Gaza City. Sobelman is a special correspondent.
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