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Israel's Cabinet Votes For A Cease-fire In The Gaza Conflict

Updated May 20, 2021 at 4:08 PM ET

Israeli officials say they have voted for a cease-fire plan, after eleven days of fighting with Hamas.

The cabinet voted to accept an Egyptian initiative for a cease-fire but they haven't agreed on a time to start, according to a statement from the cabinet. An Egyptian government statement said it would begin at 2 a.m. local time.

Hamas spokesman Hazem Al Qassem says the militant group is open to a cease-fire if Israel stops its air strikes on Gaza.

If Israel "stops its air raids in Gaza we can talk about a cease-fire. If they continue their aggression, there will be an escalation on the ground for sure," he told NPR.

Fighting has not yet ceased. After Israel's cease-fire announcement, air raid sirens went off in southern Israel warning of rocket fire, and Israeli strikes were heard in Gaza City.

The damage was vast in Gaza, where authorities say Israeli air strikes and artillery killed at least 230 people, including at least 60 children. Gaza's water and electric grids were damaged and tens of thousands were displaced from their homes.

Israel says militants fired some 4,000 rockets into the country, killing 12 people, including two children, and sending people repeatedly into shelters.

This was the fourth major outbreak of this kind of fighting – rockets and air strikes — between Hamas and Israel since Hamas took over the Gaza Strip about 15 years ago.

The announcement came after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu met with his cabinet ministers.

On Wednesday, President Biden increased pressure on Netanyahu to move toward a cease-fire. "The President conveyed to the Prime Minister that he expected a significant de-escalation today on the path to a ceasefire," the White House said Wednesday.

International officials and aid organizations have expressed alarm at the scale of the destruction and loss of life in Gaza, where about two million people live. Gazans are unable to flee Israeli airstrikes amid an Israeli blockade, and Egypt keeps its border with Gaza almost entirely closed.

"If there is a hell on earth, it is the lives of children in Gaza," U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres? said prior to the cease-fire announcement. "The fighting must stop immediately."

In the south of Israel near Gaza, where rocket alarms have gone off daily for more than a week and thousands of Israelis have evacuated, those who remain expressed support for the ongoing campaign Thursday even as most were anticipating an imminent cease-fire. Israel said its airstrikes were working to degrade the capabilities of militant organizations.

"Even though we're not people who are warmongers, we are definitely in favor of the ongoing campaign," said Eyal Hajbi, a security official for the regional council that governs the rural communities east of the Gaza Strip, whose council leader had recently met with Netanyahu to urge him to continue the bombardment.

"What has been going on in the last 20 years, and especially in the last decade, is something which we cannot tolerate anymore," Hajbi said.

NPR Correspondent Daniel Estrin contributed to this report from Jerusalem.

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