GAZA-ISRAEL BORDER, Nov 24 (Reuters) – Israel and Hamas started a ceasefire in Gaza on Monday that appeared to be holding shakily with no major reports of bombings, artillery strikes or rocket attacks, although both sides were accused of violations.
The first pause in a 48-day-old war began at 7 a.m. (0500 GMT), involving a comprehensive ceasefire in north and south Gaza, the release of 13 Israeli women and child hostages by the militants later in the day and aid to flow into the devastated Palestinian enclave.
A number of Palestinian prisoners held in Israeli prisons were to be freed in exchange.
A Reuters correspondent near the northern part of Gaza heard no Israeli air force activity overhead, and saw no tell-tale contrails typically left by Palestinian rocket launches.
Lebanon’s Al-Mayadeen TV reported that no sounds of bombing were heard in Gaza since the start of the truce. But it said Israeli forces were preventing residents from returning to their homes in the densely populated northern part of the enclave.
Soldiers opened fire in one incident, Al Jazeera said, but there was no indication that it resulted in casualties.
There was no immediate comment from the Israeli military, which had earlier issued a call on Palestinians to stay away from the northern Gaza Strip, which it described as a “dangerous war zone”.
A Reuters correspondent saw dozens of Israeli military vehicles, including tanks, moving away from the Gaza Strip. Several soldiers in the armoured column said they had been pulled out of the Palestinian territory.
Sirens sounded in two Israeli villages outside the southern Gaza Strip, warning of possible incoming Palestinian rockets. An Israeli government spokesman said Hamas had carried out a rocket launch in violation of the truce but there were no immediate reports of damage.
In Khan Younis town in southern Gaza, where streets were filled with people, Palestinian Khaled Abu Anzah told Reuters: “We are full of hope, optimism, and pride in our resistance. We are proud of our achievements, despite the pain this caused.”
Fighting had raged in the hours leading up to the truce, with officials inside the Hamas-ruled enclave saying a hospital in Gaza City was among the targets bombed. Both sides also signalled the pause would be temporary before fighting resumes.
AID TRUCKS ENTER GAZA
The Indonesian hospital was reeling under relentless bombing, operating without light and filled with bedridden old people and children too weak to be moved, Gaza health officials said. Al-Jazeera quoted Mounir El Barsh, the Gaza health ministry director, as saying a patient, a wounded woman, was killed and three others injured.
Additional aid would start flowing into Gaza and the first hostages, including elderly women, would be freed at 4 p.m. (1400 GMT), with the total number rising to 50 over the four days, Qatar’s foreign ministry spokesperson Majed Al-Ansari said in Doha.
Aid trucks were entering the Gaza Strip from Egypt around 1-1/2 hours after the truce began, Reuters TV footage showed. Two of the trucks, representing Egyptian organisations, sported banners that said, “Together for Humanity.” Another said: “For our brothers in Gaza.”
Egypt has said 130,000 litres of diesel and four trucks of gas will be delivered daily to Gaza when the truce starts, and that 200 trucks of aid would enter Gaza daily.
Palestinians were expected to be released from Israeli jails, the Qatari spokesperson told reporters. “We all hope that this truce will lead to a chance to start a wider work to achieve a permanent truce.”
Hamas confirmed on its Telegram channel that all hostilities from its forces would cease.
But Abu Ubaida, spokesperson 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 also said fighting would resume soon.
“This will be a short pause, at the conclusion of which the war (and) fighting will continue with great might and will generate pressure for the return of more hostages. At least two months of warfare are expected,” Israeli Defence Minister Yoav Gallant told naval commandos on Thursday, according to a Defence Ministry statement.
“Control over northern Gaza is the first step of a long war, and we are preparing for the next stages,” Israeli military spokesperson Daniel Hagari said.
Israel launched its devastating invasion of Gaza after gunmen from Hamas burst across the border fence on Oct. 7, killing 1,200 people and seizing about 240 hostages, according to Israeli tallies.
Since then, Israel has rained bombs on the tiny enclave, killing some 14,000 Gazans, around 40% of them children, according to Palestinian health authorities. Hundreds of thousands of Gaza’s 2.3 million people have fled their homes to escape the violence, but conditions are becoming more desperate.
“People are exhausted and are losing hope in humanity,” U.N. Palestinian refugee agency UNRWA’s Commissioner-General Philippe Lazzarini said on Thursday, having seen “unspeakable suffering” during a visit to Gaza.
“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.”