JERUSALEM • Palestinian militant groups in the Gaza Strip have announced an Egyptian-brokered ceasefire with Israel after a severe escalation of violence threatened to descend into full-blown war.
The groups, including Hamas, said in a statement on Tuesday they would abide by the ceasefire as long as Israel did the same.
The flare-up, which saw seven Gazans killed in 24 hours as the Israeli aerial bombardment flattened buildings and sent fireballs and plumes of smoke into the sky, was the worst between Israel and Palestinian militants since a 2014 war.
Israeli Defence Minister Avigdor Lieberman announced his resignation yesterday in protest at the ceasefire that he called a "capitulation to terror", weakening Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's conservative coalition government.
"Were I to stay in office, I would not be able to look southern residents in the eye," Mr Lieberman said, referring to Israelis subjected to a surge in Palestinian rocket attacks before the truce.
He said his resignation, which will go into effect 48 hours after he submits a formal letter to Mr Netanyahu, also withdraws his far-right Israel Beitenu party from the coalition.
That would leave Mr Netanyahu with control of just 61 of the 120 seats in Parliament, a year before Israel's next election.
Israeli political commentators had speculated that Mr Netanyahu, who, despite his approval ratings, has been dogged by multiple corruption investigations, might bring the ballot forward.
But a spokesman for his rightist Likud party played down that option, saying Mr Netanyahu would assume the defence post. "There is no need to go to an election during what is a sensitive period for national security. This government can see out its days," the spokes-man, Mr Jonatan Urich, said on Twitter.
Mr Lieberman has spoken in favour of harsh Israeli military action against Gaza's dominant Hamas Islamists, even as the government authorised a Qatari cash infusion to the impoverished enclave last week and limited itself to air strikes rather than wider campaigns during this week's fighting.
Hamas, which has fought three wars over the last decade against Israel that deepened Gaza's economic hardships, saw victory in Mr Lieberman's departure.
"Lieberman's resignation is a recognition of the defeat before the growing force of the Palestinian resistance," said Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri. "It also showed a state of weakness that has overcome the Israelis."
Born in the former Soviet Union, Mr Lieberman's voter base is made up of fellow Russian-speaking immigrants, and rightists and secularists who share his hostility to Israel's Arab minority and the religious authority wielded by ultra-Orthodox Jewish parties.
The ceasefire held yesterday, but the situation remained volatile and the deal provoked sharp disagreement within the Israeli government. The truce also led to protests by several hundred Israelis living near the border with Gaza, who called for further action against its Islamist rulers, Hamas.
Mr Netanyahu did not comment in detail on the agreement, but defended his strategy and said: "Our enemies begged for a ceasefire. In times of emergency, when making decisions crucial to security, the public can't always be privy to the considerations that must be hidden from the enemy."
Hamas portrayed the ceasefire as a victory and thousands of residents of the blockaded enclave took to the streets late Tuesday to celebrate. "The resistance has defended itself and defended its people against Israeli aggression," Hamas leader Ismail Haniya said.
REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE