Hamas announces ceasefire with Israel after worst escalation in years

An Israeli woman inspects the damage in an apartment that was hit by a rocket fired from the Gaza Strip in the southern Israeli town of Ashkelon

Palestinians celebrate ceasefire, Israelis show anger on the streets

Israeli Defence Minister Avigdor Lieberman announced his resignation on Wednesday and called for early elections after a sharp disagreement over a Gaza ceasefire deal, throwing the government into turmoil.

But it did not address the deeper issues that pushed Israel and Gaza's Hamas rulers towards their latest violence and left doubts about global efforts to forge a broader truce agreement.

Lieberman said his decision takes effect 48 hours after he puts it in writing.

Following increasing escalation in the region, Palestinian resistance groups Tuesday announced a truce with Israel under Egypt's mediation.

Hamas, which over the last decade has fought three wars against Israel that deepened Gaza's economic hardships, saw victory in Lieberman's departure.

The minister had earlier on Wednesday hinted at his impending resignation from the coalition government of Netanyahu. That could prompt Netanyahu to consider bringing forward a national election slated for November 2019. The strikes are retaliation, the military says, for more than 460 rockets and mortars fired from Gaza into Israel.

Netanyahu had come under heavy criticism for agreeing to the cease-fire, especially from his own political base and in rocket-battered towns in southern Israel that are typically strongholds of his ruling Likud Party.

Similarly, Bennett's office said any reports that he had supported a halt to strikes were "an absolute lie" and that the minister had "presented his resolute position to the cabinet that he has expressed in recent months and his plan for Gaza".

A senior Israeli official indicated that an Egyptian-mediated ceasefire has been reached between Israel and Hamas, and other Gaza terrorist groups, amid the latter launching more than 400 rockets into Israel since Monday.

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The current round of violence began when an Israeli commando unit on an undercover mission in Gaza was discovered by Hamas militants, setting off a deadly battle late Sunday.

"Hamas and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad made a deliberate decision to try to maximize damage inside Israel and to kill Israeli civilians", said Lt. Col. Jonathan Conricus, Israeli Defense Forces spokesman.

Netanyahu today defended his decision to invoke the ceasefire, saying that Hamas "begged" for a ceasefire and "they know very well why", the Jerusalem Post reported.

"This is a political victory for Gaza, which succeeded in standing strong and causing a political natural disaster in Israel", Hamas added in a statement.

"Israel maintains its right to act".

A Hamas official said the violence erupted on Sunday when a group of its members were fired upon by a passing auto belonging to Israel forces.

Alaa Tartir, programme advisor of Al-Shabaka: The Palestinian Policy Network, believes the latest escalation by Israel was meant to "retest" the capabilities of armed groups in Gaza, which include Hamas' al-Qassam Brigades. The blockade has ravaged Gaza's economy, and Israel refuses to lift it unless Hamas disarms, a demand rejected by the militant group, which is pledged to Israel's destruction.

In recent days, Israel allowed fuel shipments to increase the power supply in Gaza, which suffers from frequent blackouts, and agreed to additional Qatari assistance to allow Hamas to pay the salaries of its thousands of unpaid workers.

Israeli troops have killed more that 220 Palestinians during those confrontations, which have included border breaches.

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