Gaza guns fall silent: Four-day Hamas-Israel truce begins
For the first time in weeks, a cautious piece prevails over Gaza's shattered landscape and its war-weary residents. Photo: AP
A temporary ceasefire between Israeli and Hamas forces took hold in the Gaza Strip on Friday, the first respite in 48 days of conflict that has devastated the Palestinian enclave, but both sides warn the war is far from over.
No big bombings, artillery strikes or rocket attacks were reported although Hamas and Israel both accused each other of sporadic shootings and other violations.
The ceasefire, which began at 7am (3pm AEDT) on Friday, involves the release of 13 Israeli women and children held hostage by Hamas in exchange for Palestinian prisoners held in Israeli jails.
Additional aid is to flow into Gaza, which has been gripped by a humanitarian crisis under weeks of Israeli bombardment that has killed thousands of Palestinians.
Reuters journalists saw Israeli tanks moving away from the Gaza Strip at the northern end, and aid trucks rolling in from Egypt at the southern end.
There was no sound of Israeli air force activity above northern Gaza, nor any of the contrails typically left by Palestinian rocket fire.
In Khan Younis town in southern Gaza, housing thousands of families displaced from the north, streets filled with people venturing out of home and shelters.
Hamas confirmed on Telegram that all hostilities from its forces would cease.
But Abu Ubaida, spokesman for Hamas’ armed wing, later referred to “this temporary truce” in a video message that called for an “escalation of the confrontation with (Israel) on all resistance fronts”, including the Israeli-occupied West Bank where violence has surged since the Gaza war erupted almost seven weeks ago.
Israel’s military said its troops would stay behind a ceasefire line inside Gaza, without giving details of its position.
“These will be complicated days and nothing is certain,” Israeli military spokesman Daniel Hagari said.
“Control over northern Gaza is the first step of a long war, and we are preparing for the next stages.”
Israel had received an initial list of hostages to be freed and was in touch with families, the prime minister’s office said.
Israel launched its devastating invasion of Gaza after gunmen from Hamas burst across the border fence on October 7, killing 1200 people and seizing about 240 hostages, according to Israeli tallies.
‘Losing hope in humanity’
Since then, Israel has rained bombs on the tiny enclave, killing some 14,000 Gazans, around 40 per cent of them children, according to Palestinian health authorities.
“People are exhausted and are losing hope in humanity,” United Nations Palestinian refugee agency UNRWA’s Commissioner-General Philippe Lazzarini said on Thursday after a visit to Gaza, referring to “unspeakable suffering” in the enclave.
“They need respite, they deserve to sleep without being anxious about whether they will make it through the night. This is the bare minimum anyone should be able to have.”
Ahead of the ceasefire, fighting continued at even greater than normal intensity on Thursday, with Israeli jets hitting more than 300 targets and troops engaged in heavy fighting around Jabalia refugee camp north of Gaza City.
The Indonesian hospital in Gaza City was reeling under relentless bombing, operating without light and filled with bedridden old people and children, Gaza health officials said.
International alarm has focused on the fate of hospitals, especially in Gaza’s northern half, where all medical facilities have ceased functioning with patients, staff and displaced people trapped inside.
Israel says Hamas fighters use residential and other civilian buildings, including hospitals, as cover – a charge that Hamas denies.