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Cease-fire between Israel and Hamas militants in Gaza holds after 11 days of deadly fighting

Israel agrees to cease-fire after 11 days of violence
Israel agrees to cease-fire after 11 days of ... 03:37

Tel Aviv, Israel —The Israeli government and Hamas said they had agreed to a cease-fire late Thursday after 11 days of violence that saw over 200 Palestinians and 12 Israelis killed in the worst fighting in the region in years. 

A statement put out by the Israeli prime minister's office said the security cabinet had "unanimously" agreed to accept an Egyptian proposal for a "mutual cease-fire," but did not specify when it would start. 

"The political leadership emphasizes that it is the reality on the ground that will determine the future of the operation," the statement said.

An hour after the Israeli government's announcement, Taher Al-Nono, the political adviser to the head of the political bureau of Hamas, issued a statement saying they had agreed to a cease-fire to start at 2 a.m. local time on Friday (7 p.m. EDT), as long as Israel abides by the same conditions.

The spokesman for the Qassam Brigades, the military wing of Hamas, said that if Israel launched an attack on Gaza before 2 a.m., the militant group was prepared to continue launching rockets.

The truce appeared to be holding several hours after it began.

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Smoke billows from a building targeted during an Israeli airstrike in Gaza City May 20, 2021.  Majdi Fathi/NurPhoto via AP

President Joe Biden spoke Thursday evening from the White House after the announcement of the cease-fire. He said Israelis and Palestinians "equally have the right to live safely and securely and to enjoy equal measures of freedom, prosperity and democracy."

"My administration will continue its quiet and relentless diplomacy toward that end," Mr. Biden said. "I believe we have a genuine opportunity to make progress and I am committed to working toward it." 

Mr. Biden said the U.S. will continue to support Israel's Iron Dome missile defense system, which has blocked thousands of rockets during the conflict. 

Mr. Biden said he had spoken to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu six times over the last 11 days, and also spoke to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas. 

The White House also said Thursday that Mr. Biden had spoken to President Abdel Fattah Al Sisi of Egypt, and "discussed efforts to achieve a ceasefire." The White House said the two leaders will stay "closely" in touch.

Special Report: Biden on Mideast cease-fire 06:44

There had been increasing speculation by Israeli media outlets on Thursday that a cease-fire to end the deadly conflict with Hamas and other armed groups in the Gaza Strip could come soon. But for much of the day, the bombing continued.   

At the U.N. General Assembly on Thursday, the United States made clear that its "singular focus" during the past 11 days of the Israel-Hamas conflict was to bring about a cease-fire and work with both Israel and the Palestinian leadership to end the fighting.

The U.S. ambassador to the U.N., Linda Thomas-Greenfield appeared to foreshadow a truce was near on Thursday morning, telling diplomats: "In his most recent call with Prime Minister Netanyahu yesterday, President Biden communicated that we continue to stand by Israel's right to defend itself, that we believe Israel is now in a position to begin winding down the conflict, and we expect a significant de-escalation to begin."  

"The human toll of this violence has been heartbreaking," Thomas-Greenfield said. 

Her talk came after an unusually stark characterization from U.N. Secretary General Antonio Guterres, who opened the 100-person meeting saying: "If there is a hell on earth, it is the lives of children in Gaza today. "  

Some 2 million Palestinians live crammed into the tiny, 140-square-mile sliver of land that is the Gaza Strip. It's one of the most tightly-packed human populations on Earth. Nebraska, for comparison, has a similar population living across its 77,000 square miles.

The misery in Gaza has been unrelenting. Israeli airstrikes have illuminated the skyline for 11 days, causing an inferno of destruction on the ground. The Gaza Health Ministry said on Thursday that the death toll from the bombing campaign had hit 230, with 65 children among the dead.

Israel, meanwhile, said on Thursday that Hamas had fired more than 4,000 rockets since this conflict began. The vast majority of those unpredictable projectiles have been intercepted by Israel's advanced Iron Dome missile defense system, but the ones that slip through have killed 12 Israelis, including two children.

CBS News' team in the southern Israeli town of Be'er Sheva had to join residents of an apartment building as they ducked into a bomb shelter on Wednesday when sirens blared, warning of another salvo of rockets from Gaza.

A day later, CBS News' producer in Gaza said new airstrikes had again struck buildings in the north of the territory.

Israel insists it has been carrying out precision strikes against militant targets and tunnel networks in Gaza, and that it does everything possible to avoid civilian casualties.

But Hamas officials said on Thursday that more than 100,000 Palestinians had been forced out of their homes by the Israeli strikes in just over a week, as hundreds of residential buildings have been razed or seriously damaged.

Israel blames Hamas for the civilian suffering in Gaza, accusing it of hiding amongst the population in the crowded territory.

Civilian Casualties Rise As Israel-Gaza Violence Continues
Palestinians inspect damage to buildings in northern Gaza City on May 20, 2021, after 10 days of Israeli airstrikes.  Fatima Shbair/Getty

After the cease-fire was finally announced, U.N. Secretary-General Guterres urged the international community to work together on a "robust package of support for a swift, sustainable reconstruction and recovery that supports the Palestinian people and strengthens their institutions," and he called on Israeli and Palestinian leaders "to start a serious dialogue to address the root causes of the conflict."

Moving forward, Guterres said, "I think it will be very important to have a robust program of humanitarian aid and recovery for Gaza. And I think it will be very important to revitalize the peace process, to restart the peace process in order to have a two-state solution." 

"I never feel safe"

In both Gaza and Israel, it's children who are suffering the most. The United Nation's children's charity UNICEF has warned that one million Palestinian youngsters are facing "disaster" if a ceasefire isn't called soon.

CBS News spoke to two 10-year-old girls, one Israeli and one Palestinian, about what they're experiencing.

Nadine Abdel-Taif has become the face of Gaza's children after her video appeal for peace went viral online. CBS News met Nadine near her neighborhood, which is now in ruins.

"I want to feel safe for one day at least," she said. "I never feel safe in my own home."

Biden calls for Israel-Gaza de-escalation 07:57

Just a few miles from Gaza in southern Israel, we met Renana Botzer Swissa, who said it was "very scary" every time Hamas rockets are fired near her home.

She said she knows what she experiences, however, is nothing compared to what Nadine is going through inside Gaza.

We asked the young Israeli what she'd say to Nadine if they were ever to meet.

"I wouldn't say nothing," she replied. "I would just hug her, and tell her that I know what she feels."

CBS News' Tucker Reals and Pamela Falk contributed to this report.

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