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Israel and Gaza militants agree to cease-fire after weekend of violence

Palestinian officials said on May 6 a ceasefire agreement was reached with Israel to end a recent surge of violence in Gaza and southern Israel. (Video: Reuters)
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ASHKELON, Israel — An uneasy cease-fire settled over the cities of southern Israel on Monday after a weekend that brought a rain of 600 rockets from the Gaza Strip, but not all residents thought the truce was a good thing.

Near the explosion-scarred house of Moshe Agadi, 58, who became the first Israeli since 2014 to die in rocket fire from Gaza, mothers took their children to play in a park after 48 hours of sheltering indoors.

“Israel needs to stop this once and for all,” said Inna Kraysberg, 34, as her two young children played on a nearby slide. “We can’t just let them carry on and lie down for them to kill us. Hamas decides when it starts and when it stops.”

Four Israelis died in the violence, the worst round of fighting between Israel and militant factions in Gaza since Israel’s 2014 war with Hamas. In Gaza, 25 people were killed as Israel responded with airstrikes, bringing multistory buildings thundering to the ground. 

However, efforts by Egypt and the United Nations to broker a cease-fire bore fruit by the early hours of Monday, as armed factions in Gaza said they had agreed to a truce. 

Hamas and Islamic Jihad, the two largest militant groups in Gaza, confirmed that a cease-fire was in place.

A spokesman for the office of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu declined to comment on the reports, but the Israeli military said that protective restrictions for civilians in southern Israel were being lifted. 

Civilians on both sides of the fence said they were weary of the endless cycle of violence. The Hamas-run Ministry for Public Works in Gaza said 130 housing units in the strip were destroyed in the two days of strikes. 

“We feel very weak after two days of fear,” said Wael Hanoush, a 39-year-old businessman in Beit Lahiya, in the northern Gaza Strip. “Today this round ends and we do not know when it will start again.” 

Fatima Ayoub, 44, said she had fled her home after a missile hit next door, blowing out her windows. “We want a strong resistance and freedom of movement,” she said. “But we can’t live this way. 

But others felt that Hamas had scored a win. 

“Yes, we lose a lot of money and lives,” said 23-year-old Ahmed Massoud, but factions in Gaza had “resisted the occupier with honor.” Israel “only understands the language of force,” he said. 

In Ashkelon, the city visible just up the coast from Gaza, where two Israelis were killed on Sunday, Lily Buri, 65, expressed frustration that Israel had bent to demands from Gaza.

“We need to bomb them with all our strength from the air,” she said, sitting with her 13-year-old granddaughter on a bench outside Agadi’s house. 

Netanyahu should “act with more substance,” she added. 

Hamas officials said they escalated the violence to push Israel to stick to the terms it had agreed to after another such flare-up in March, when rocket fire had caused Netanyahu to cut short a trip to Washington. Hamas accused Israel of reneging on the deal to allow in cash assistance of $30 million a month from Qatar, expand fishing rights and ease the restrictions on imports and exports that have choked Gaza’s economy. 

With Gaza’s beleaguered population of 2 million people increasingly turning its frustrations toward Hamas, the group has been desperate to secure an easing of Israeli restrictions, particularly as the Muslim holy month of Ramadan approached. Egypt, which has been brokering efforts to reach a longer-term truce, has been opening its land border with Gaza more frequently. 

In the past, the Israeli prime minister’s office has declined to comment or outright denied reaching truce deals with Hamas — agreements that are unpopular with parts of the Israeli population and Netanyahu’s government. His decision to enter a cease-fire with Hamas late last year almost caused his government to collapse, as his defense minister, Avigdor Liberman, quit in protest.

Israel’s hawkish defense minister resigns from the government over Hamas truce

This time, however, the stakes were particularly high for Israel, as international teams began flying in for Eurovision, an international singing contest, the hosting of which has been a major source of national pride. Madonna is slated to perform in the event, which will be broadcast from Tel Aviv — in range of Gaza’s rockets. 

Netanyahu is also in the middle of attempts to form a new government after winning elections last month. 

Basem Naim, a Hamas official, said that made it a particularly good time to pressure Israel to make good on prior commitments to ease its restrictions on Gaza, with Israel’s independence day celebrations also to be held this week. 

Islamic Jihad, which the Israeli military accuses of starting the latest round of violence, said that Israel had agreed to carry out the previously agreed “mechanisms” to ease restrictions. “Our people are waiting for an end to the siege,” it said. “The agreement stipulates that the calm is reciprocal and simultaneous.” 

Hamas has said it has also asked Israel to stop the use of live ammunition against the weekly demonstrations of Palestinian residents at the border fence with Israel. 

On Monday Netanyahu said the campaign was “not over and demands patience and sagacity.” 

“We are prepared to continue,” he said.

Death toll rises as Gaza militants fire hundreds of rockets into Israel, which responds with airstrikes

Gaza health authorities said two more Palestinian bodies were pulled out of the rubble of destroyed buildings Monday, taking the total killed over the weekend to 25. Of those, Israel denied that two, a pregnant woman and a baby, had died as a result of its airstrikes, asserting that they were hit when a Palestinian rocket misfired.

The Palestinian health authority in Gaza said the dead also included another pregnant woman and infant, as well as a 12-year-old boy. Militant factions said at least nine of the dead were their fighters, eight of them from Islamic Jihad, according to the group.

During the violence, Israel said it carried out its first targeted assassination in Gaza after a hiatus of several years. Netanyahu’s right-wing coalition partners had been calling for the policy to be brought back. 

The Israeli military said it targeted a 34-year-old man who worked in a money-exchange office and was responsible for channeling Iranian funds to Hamas and Islamic Jihad. An airstrike hit his car on a busy street in Gaza City on Sunday. 

Balousha reported from Gaza City. 

More than 200 rockets fired into Israel from Gaza; Israel responds, killing 3

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Today’s coverage from Post correspondents around the world

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