Update: Cease-fire agreements announced

November 21, 2012, 3:10pm EST

(Washington, D.C.) -- On the eighth day of "Operation Pillar of Defense," Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has announced a cease fire agreement with all Palestinian factions in Gaza, a deal that has been mediated by Egypt. The cease fire formally went into effect at 9pm local time (2pm eastern). The announcement came towards the end of very intense day of fighting on both sides, including a bus bombing in Tel Aviv that wounded 28 Israelis.

A few hours ago I landed back in Washington, D.C. after twelve days in Israel and the West Bank. I've seen first-hand how painful this war has been for Jews and Arabs. Like many of you, I've been praying non-stop for the Lord to restore calm and security on the Israel-Gaza border and stop the fighting. Thus, I want to believe that the cease fire will work and that the lives of both Israelis and Palestinians can slowly but surely return to normal. But I'm asking the same question everyone in the region is: Will the agreement hold?

“Now, I know that there are citizens who expect an even more intense military action — and we may very well need one, but at this time the correct thing for the State of Israel is to take advantage of this opportunity for a long lasting truce,” Netanyahu said. “As prime minister, the responsibility rests upon me — and it is my foremost responsibility — to take the correct steps to safeguard our security. That is how I have acted and that is how I shall continue to act....Terrorist organizations [in the Gaza Strip] assumed that [Israel] wouldn’t attack. They were wrong.”

Text of Israel-Hamas cease-fire agreement

Following is the verbatim English text of the ceasefire agreement between Israel and the Palestinians in Gaza that was reached on Wednesday with Egyptian mediation.

The text was distributed by the Egyptian presidency.

Agreement of Understanding for a Ceasefire in the Gaza Strip

1: (no title given for this section)
A. Israel should stop all hostilities in the Gaza Strip land, sea and air including incursions and targeting of individuals.
B. All Palestinian factions shall stop all hostilities from the Gaza Strip against Israel including rocket attacks and all attacks along the border.
C. Opening the crossings and facilitating the movements of people and transfer of goods and refraining from restricting residents' free movements and targeting residents in border areas and procedures of   implementation shall be dealt with after 24 hours from the start of the ceasefire.
D. Other matters as may be requested shall be addressed.

2: Implementation mechanisms:
A. Setting up the zero hour for the ceasefire understanding to enter into effect.
B. Egypt shall receive assurances from each party that the party commits to what was agreed upon.
C. Each party shall commit itself not to perform any acts that would breach this understanding. In case of any observations Egypt as the sponsor of this understanding shall be informed to follow up.

November 19, 2012, 4:20pm EST

Today, I decided to Tweet moment by moment on a visit to the Israeli city of Ashkelon, not far from the Gaza border. I thought it was going to be an interesting visit. I didn't know the half of it. It's one thing to watch on TV as rockets are being fired from Gaza into Israel, and to watch the Iron Dome system fire missiles to intercept them. It's quite another thing to be there in person and hear the air raid sirens going off, and run for cover to the nearest bomb shelter, and see the contrails of the rockets and missiles screeching across the sky, and then hear the earth-shaking booms, and to feel your heart pounding in your chest as you thank God that He protected you.

May you never have to experience this.

As I headed to Ashkelon from Jerusalem, I was accompanied by several of my colleagues with The Joshua Fund. We had been invited by a dear friend to come back to visit a hospital that serves as the primary medical center serving some 500,000 Israeli citizens who live on the southern tier. For the past several years, The Joshua Fund has been honored to invest in the purchase of much-needed medical equipment for the hospital through the generous donations of evangelical Christians in the U.S. and Canada.

We knew that Ashkelon had been targeted for the past six days with a relentless barrage of rockets and missiles. We knew it was risky. But we also felt the Lord was telling to go and see how the staff was doing, encourage them, pray with and for them, and try to get a better understanding of what they and the residents of Ashkelon face. I'm so glad went. For a while we thought we were going to be able to depart without incident, and that was what we were praying for. But Lord had other plans.

Here are the Tweets I sent today in the order they were sent:

  1. Heading into Ashkelon w/colleagues from #TheJoshuaFund to visit Barzilai Hospital staff in the epicenter of the missile zone. Pls pray for us.
  2. 3 rockets intercepted over Ashkelon. "Rocket fire from Gaza slows, IDF says terror groups' offensive capacity reduced by 40%" (Times of Israel)
  3. Entering city of Ashkelon.
  4. Retweet report from Times of Israel: "#Walla news reports that an elementary school in Ashkelon has been damaged [by rocket attack]."
  5. Touring Barzilai Hospital w/#TheJoshuaFund team. No rockets, no sirens since we've been here, by God's grace.
  6. Meeting w/Lea Malul, director of public affairs for Barzilai Hospital in Ashkelon. The Joshua Fund loves this hospital.
  7. Sirens going off right now!
  8. Just saw rockets incoming as we ran to shelter -- and saw Iron Dome take them out. Thank the Lord for His protection. Psalm 91
  9. We're on the street where a rocket landed, but didn't explode.
  10. More sirens right now. Israelis running for cover. At least 2 booms, Iron Dome intercepting. Now 2 more booms. Thank you, Lord for safety.
  11. Our Joshua Fund team is now leaving Ashkelon. We've met and listened to people who live here and described to us what their lives are like.
  12. Reading Psalm 91, grateful for the Lord's grace & mercy. Praying for the millions in this area traumatized by the rockets & missiles. #Ashkelon.
  13. Retweet report from IDF spokesman: "A short while ago, a rocket fired from #Gaza was intercepted by the Iron Dome over Ashkelon. Pieces of the rocket then crashed on a school."

While I never felt scared (I certainly felt a surge of adrenaline, but also what the Bible calls "the peace that passes all understanding"), I certainly could better appreciate how difficult it must be to live a normal life when sirens keep going off and you never quite know where the rocket is coming from, or where it will hit, and how much time you have to get to safety. These Hamas rockets and missiles are weapons of terror. They are designed to kill and wound if they can, but also to instill fear and anxiety. I was impressed with all the Israelis I saw who could bounce back very quickly from each attack with a calm determination to get right back to their business. But I also met people who were deeply shaken by the relentless attacks and were having a much harder time than their neighbors. Please keep praying for the millions on both sides of this border -- Israelis and Palestinians -- who are living inside the missile zone.

November 16, 2012, 6:30pm EST

I'm in a hotel watching wall-to-wall coverage of the escalating violence here. We're now getting breaking news. Israeli PM Netanyahu and his Security Cabinet have just concluded their classified meeting, which has lasted for hours. Only a few details have been released concerning their conclusions. But the main two are ominous:

  • Israel's Home Front Command has been ordered to tell the nation to prepare for 7 weeks of war.
  • 75,000 IDF reserve soldiers are definitely being called up for action -- up from 30,000 on Thursday, and 16,000 on Wednesday.

"Home Front Command asks local authorities to prepare for seven-week fighting period," reports Ynet News. "In discussions held between Home Front Command Chief Major-General Eyal Eisenberg, regional commanders and heads of local authorities in the center and in the south, authorities have been instructed to prepare for a seven-week period of combat as part of Operation Pillar of Defense and to prepare emergency supplies, accordingly. Some supplies were prepared in advance. The Home Front Command estimates that terror organizations in the Gaza Strip are still capable of launching long-range rockets, even further than a 75-kilometer range. The Home Front Command sharpened instructions for the Tel Aviv metropolitan area and southern residents and, accordingly, communities located in a range of between 40-75 kilometers from the Gaza Strip must enter nearby, protected spaces the moment blasts or sirens are heard. If there is no protected space in the vicinity, residents should enter the nearest structure or stairwell. In light of the long-range rockets fired over the past few days, these instructions apply to all communities within a 75-kilometer range and not only in the Tel Aviv metropolitan area."

I've been consulting with The Joshua Fund staff today. At the moment, we're blocked from providing any humanitarian relief to those in the thick of the rocket fire because all roads in the region are closed to civilian traffic. But we believe specific opportunities will open soon. We're closely monitoring the situation and making preparations to move the moment the Lord gives us the green light. Please pray for us to have wisdom. If you would like to make a tax-deductible donation to The Joshua Fund, please go to our secure donation page. Thank you so much for faithfully standing with us as we seek to bless Israel and her neighbors -- Jews and Arabs -- in the name of Jesus, especially in this time of crisis.

November 16, 2012, 6:00pm EST

Friday was a potentially game-changing day for Israel. For the first time since 1970, Iranian-made missiles were fired at Jerusalem from terrorists in Gaza. Missiles were also fired from Gaza at Tel Aviv. Air raid sirens were blaring in both cities this evening, rattling residents because of their exceedingly rare nature. As I write this late Friday evening, Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu and his Security Cabinet have been meeting for several hours behind closed doors. One decision has been made for certain: Israel is now calling up 75,000 reserve soldiers, not the 30,000 that were just approved on Thursday.

The big question now: Will the Palestinian terrorists' attacks on Jerusalem, Israel's political and religious capital -- and Tel Aviv, its largest population center and its commercial capital -- trigger an IDF ground invasion of Gaza?

Israel is certainly moving rapidly to prepare for such a possibility. Tanks and armored vehicles are being moved into position surrounding Gaza. Roads leading into Israeli towns and villages near Gaza are closed to all but military traffic (and some journalists). We have friends who live in the Israeli town of Sderot who were out of town when the shooting began who now can't get back to their apartments (not that they really want to return at the moment).

That said, the decision may not be as obvious as one might think. Israel will invade if it absolutely has to. But the more I think about it, the more I'm thinking that Netanyahu doesn't want to invade. Not because he is weak, but because he is shrewd. He knows three things:

  1. CASUALTIES -- Netanyahu knows that Israeli and Palestinian casualties will mount rapidly if IDF soldiers have to fight house to house in Gaza -- no one wants that if it can be avoided.
  2. CHARGE OF OCCUPATION -- Netanyahu also knows that Hamas is trying to lure Israel into Gaza. Currently, Hamas officials are saying they are fighting the "occupation." That's ludicrous, of course. Israel hasn't occupied Gaza since it pulled all of its military forces and residents out of the Gaza Strip in 2005. However, if the IDF has to invade, then Hamas will be able to claim that Israel is "occupying" Palestinian land, something Netanyahu would prefer to avoid.
  3. RISK OF TRIGGERING DECISIVE U.N. VOTE  FOR A PALESTINIAN STATE-- As I've reported in recent days, the Palestinian leadership has asked for and been promised a vote in the U.N. General Assembly on November 29th for the world to declare an official Palestinian state. Before this week's violent escalation by Hamas, the Palestinians were all-but-assured of a winning vote. Now there is some doubt. Some governments around the world are going to be hesitant to vote to create a Palestinian state when a major portion of Palestinian-controlled territory has fired more than 700 rockets and missiles at Israeli civilians. Netanyahu doesn't want to take actions that could trigger more sympathy and support for the Palestinian state initiative.

Please continue to pray for Jews and Arabs on both sides of the conflict. The Lord God loves them both. He has a plan for them both. Let’s pray for peace and security. Let’s also pray for wisdom for leaders on both sides and for the Lord to comfort and heal the dozens who are wounded and the millions who are traumatized on both sides. Please pray for the believers here as they continue to love their neighbors and pray for and comfort their neighbors, and continue to preach and teach the Word of God. Please mobilize others to pray. Remember: at its core, this is a spiritual battle. The violence is a physical manifestation of a spiritual war that is going on in the heavenlies. We need you to be interceding for Israel and the Palestinians in the name of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Over the past several years, The Joshua Fund has been privileged to provide funds for the purchase of much needed equipment for a medical center in the south where the rockets have been aimed. Yesterday, we received word that the medical center has been placed on its highest state of emergency due to the rockets being fired from Gaza. Patients are being evacuated to other facilities, all elective procedures have been cancelled, and doctors and nurses are on site to handle the wounded. As of Thursday, the medical center was treating 20 injured patients and preparing for more. As you pray for the Lord to intervene, please also remember the doctors and nurses who are presently dealing with the wounded.

Here are the latest developments:

November 15, 2012, 6:00pm EST

It is just after midnight on Friday morning here in Israel. To put it bluntly: Thursday was a very difficult day for Israelis in the south and Palestinians living in Gaza. Consider this: the Palestinians have fired nearly 700 rockets, missiles and mortars over the past 36 hours. The Israelis have bombed more than 70 terrorist sites in Gaza in just the past hour. Tonight, the big news here is that the terrorists have fired missiles at Tel Aviv, Israel's biggest and most populated city. Air raid sirens have been going off. People are anxious. This is the first time Tel Aviv has been the target of missile attacks since the Gulf War with Saddam Hussein in 1991. What's more, three Israelis were killed in a direct rocket strike earlier today, and 54 have been wounded. Now the IDF is calling up 30,000 reserve soldiers to prepare for what could be a massive ground invasion.

The onslaught by Hamas and its allies in Gaza is being driven by Iran. It is the mullahs in Iran who arm, fund and encourage the Palestinian terrorist movement and no one is happier to see Hamas unleashing its evil fury on Israeli towns, villages and cities more that the Ayatollah Khamenei. The big question is this: How far are Israeli leaders prepared to go to shut down the Gaza threat, before they turn towards a possible war with Iran to neutralize Iran's nuclear threat. Will this conflict go just a few more days? Or are we talking weeks. That's not yet clear, though officials in Jerusalem are telling their people this is just the beginning.

Events here are dominating discussions wherever you go. I just had dinner with Israeli friends who kept the TV on for much of the evening to keep track of the latest developments, particularly the nearly unprecedented attacks on Tel Aviv. They know families whose fathers and sons are being called up to prepare for an invasion of Gaza. We're all praying that doesn't have to happen, but Israeli officials are warning this is just the beginning of "Operation Pillar of Defense," not the end. "Difficult days are ahead," said IDF spokesman Brigadier-General Yoav Mordechai. "We must be strong in both defense and offense. At the end of the day we will be measured by what we have achieved; not by what we said we would achieve."

Over the past several years, The Joshua Fund has been privileged to provide funds for the purchase of much needed equipment for a medical center in the south where the rockets have been aimed. This morning we received word that the medical center has been placed on its highest state of emergency due to the rockets being fired from Gaza. Patients are being evacuated to other facilities, all elective procedures have been cancelled, and doctors and nurses are on site to handle the wounded. As of earlier today (Israel time) the medical center was treating 20 injured patients and preparing for more. As you pray for the Lord to intervene, please also remember the doctors and nurses who are presently dealing with the wounded. Please continue to pray for Jews and Arabs on both sides of the conflict. The Lord God loves them both. He has a plan for them both. Let's pray for peace and security. Let's also pray for wisdom for leaders on both sides and for the Lord to comfort and heal the dozens who are wounded and the millions who are traumatized on both sides.

That said, here are the latest developments you should know about:

  • Air raid sirens went off repeatedly in Tel Aviv tonight. At least two -- and possibly three -- missiles were shot from Gaza at Tel Aviv. This is the first time since the 1991 Gulf War with Saddam Hussein that missiles have been fired at Israel's largest city and commercial capital.
  • As of 11pm Thursday night local time, Palestinian terrorists have fired at least 665 rockets, missiles and mortars at Israeli civilians since Wednesday morning. Hamas has fired 527. Islamic Jihad has fired 138. Remember: each rocket fired involves two war crimes -- firing from innocent Palestinian civilians, and firing at innocent Israeli civilians.
  • As of midnight Thursday, Israel has hit 340 targets in Gaza since launching Operation Pillar of Defense on Wednesday, according to the Jerusalem Post.
  • Israel hit more than 70 targets just between 10pm and 11pm local time on Thursday night.
  • Israel's "Iron Dome" system has shot down more than 100 rockets and missiles fired out of Gaza at southern Israel since Wednesday. A report at 11:41pm local time said the number is 130.
  • 3 Israelis have been killed so far. "Three people — two men and a woman — were killed and an 8-month-old baby was critically injured Thursday morning after a rocket blasted into a four-story building in Kiryat Malachi in southern Israel. Six people suffered from shock," reports the Times of Israel. "The names of the victims were cleared for publication late Thursday afternoon. Aharon Smadga, 49, Itzik Amsalem, 24, and Mirah Sharf, 26 will all be buried Thursday evening. Sharf was reportedly pregnant."
  • 16 Palestinians -- including the top commander of the Hamas military wing -- have been killed.
  • 54 Israelis have been wounded.
  • Some 200 Palestinians have been wounded (primarily because Hamas stores its weapons and missile launchers in and near schools, mosques, hospitals, apartment buildings, and other civilian areas)
  • The IDF is in the process of calling up 30,000 reservists to prepare for a possible ground operation into Gaza.
  • 10:41 PM local time -- UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon notifies Israeli government of an upcoming visit to Jerusalem, Cairo, and Ramallah, to take place on Tuesday, following the escalation of the situation in the Gaza Strip.
  • 7:35 PM -- White House Press Secretary Jay Carney says President Obama condemns the rockets fired at Israel; "there is no justification for these cowardly acts."
  • Egypt sending PM to Gaza, denounces Israel assault.

Iron Dome image from YNet News/ynetnews.com

November 15, 2012, 10:00am EST

Over the past several years, The Joshua Fund has been privileged to have the opportunity to provide funds for the purchase of much needed equipment for a medical center in the south where the rockets have been aimed. This morning we received word that the medical center has been placed on its highest state of emergency due to the rockets being fired from Gaza. Patients are being evacuated to other facilities, all elective procedures have been cancelled, and doctors and nurses are on site to handle the wounded. As of earlier today (Israel time) the medical center was treating 20 injured patients and preparing for more.

As you pray for the Lord to intervene, please also remember the doctors and nurses who are presently dealing with the wounded.

November 14, 2012, 5:00pm EST

(Netanya, Israel) -- We urgently need Christians around the world to pray for peace and to mobilize your family, friends and churches to pray and fast. The situation here is rapidly going from bad to worse. It is nearly midnight here, and the battle between Hamas and Israel has been intensifying hour by hour throughout the day. Hamas, Islamic Jihad and other Palestinian terror organizations are firing rockets, missiles and mortars at innocent civilians in Israel, along the southern border. Each act is a war crime. The terrorists are also firing from behind innocent civilians in Gaza, often from hospitals, mosques and schools. Thus, each act is actually two war crimes. In just the past several hours, the terrorists have fired more 50 times at Israel. That's more than 100 war crimes. Since Saturday, they have fired at Israeli civilians more than 200 times. That's more than 400 war crimes. Yet the world is paying very little attention and doing little to stop the terrorist attacks. Israel, therefore, is moving swiftly to defend herself.

Please pray for the Lord to intervene and stop the violence. Pray for the Lord to protect and comfort those injured and traumatized on both sides, Jews and Arabs. Please pray for the followers of Jesus Christ here to be brave and courageous to humbly serve those in need and provide humanitarian relief as needed.



Graphic from The Jerusalem Post/ jpost.com

Here are the latest developments:

November 14, 2012, 7:30am EST

Breaking: Top Hamas military commander killed in air strike; 8 developments you need to know about.

(Netanya, Israel) -- Night is falling here in the Holy Land. I was just emailing with a former U.S. presidential candidate about the latest developments here in Israel, and I thought I'd share the same information with you. Short version: it's been a challenging week. Here are 8 developments you need to know about.

  1. Syria and Israel have fired at each other multiple times for the first time since the Yom Kippur War in 1973.
  2. More than 160 rockets and mortars have been fired at Israeli towns in the southern tier by Iranian-backed Palestinian terrorists in Gaza since last Saturday, and more than 40 Israelis have been wounded.
  3. Under pressure from Egypt, Hamas is being told to stop firing rockets -- and in the last 24 hours or so the rocket fire has slowed significantly. That said, four rockets were fired at southern Israel today (Wednesday), apparently by terrorists operating in the Sinai Peninsula.
  4. Moments ago, news broke that a top Hamas military commander was just killed in an IAF air strike. Now Israelis in the south are awaiting a possible new barrage of rockets from Gaza in retaliation. Still, Israeli officials believe they need to reestablish a deterrence factor by assassinating top Hamas leaders and thus raising the cost of rocket attacks.
  5. Meanwhile, the Palestinian leadership which has lost control of Gaza is moving towards unilaterally declaring a state. It is seeking a U.N. General Assembly vote recognizing the state. At this point, the U.N. vote is set for November 29th, which is the anniversary of the U.N. Partition Plan vote in 1947. Such a unilateral step would be in violation of the Oslo Accords signed by the PLO and Israel which disallows unilateral actions such as this.
  6. The Obama administration is pressuring Palestinian Chairman Mahmoud Abbas not to take unilateral steps, including with a personal phone call by President Obama to Abbas.
  7. Some media reports here say the Israelis are threatening to topple Abbas if he takes such unilateral actions in defiance of signed agreements.
  8. If this all weren't enough challenges, a new IAEA report due out this week will indicate that Iran is steadily moving its nuclear program into deep underground facilities and that there are now 2,700 centrifuges to enrich uranium located in the Fordow facility, close to the religious city of Qom.

The corridor between Tel Aviv and Tehran is the most dangerous corridor on the planet. And make no mistake: Iran is already at war with the State of Israel. The radical mullahs in Tehran declared war against the Jewish state in 1979. They have been killing Israelis and other Jews ever since. Today, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his senior advisors are engaged in a high stakes diplomatic, financial and covert war to neutralize the Iranian nuclear threat before the mullahs — driven by an apocalyptic, genocidal End Times theology – get the Bomb and the means to deliver it.  Now the question is: Will Netanyahu soon order his nation into a full scale, all-out war with Iran that could set the entire Middle East on fire?

All that said, it should be noted that God is sovereign. As we continue to pray for the peace of Jerusalem in obedience to Psalm 122:6, the Lord continues to protect the people of Israel, and He loves all the inhabitants of the land, Israeli Jews, Israeli Arabs, Palestinian Arabs, Christians and Muslims. What's more, while there are serious tensions on the Gaza and Syrian borders, most of Israel is very safe. Tourism this year is at an all-time high. Indeed, the number of tourists coming into Israel in September was an all-time record. I've been here since Friday speaking at a pastors' conference and I've never felt in danger. The challenges are real, but keep them in context that most Israelis and Palestinians are going about their daily lives without fear or interference. But please keep praying for peace, for wisdom for the leaders here, and for the followers of Jesus Christ to be a blessing to all the people here.

Thanks. Lord willing, I'll continue to keep you updated as best I can.

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