Israel and the Islamic Jihad militant group in the Gaza Strip agreed to an Egyptian-brokered ceasefire late Saturday in an effort to end it for five days tense battles which killed 33 Palestinians, including at least 13 civilians. Two people in Israel died as a result of rocket fire.
A soft cease-fire appeared to take effect just after 10 p.m., with the latest burst of rocket fire and Israeli airstrikes continuing minutes past the deadline announced by Egypt. Late Saturday, Israel reported additional incoming fire and said it had hit Gaza again. But calm seemed to be quickly restored.
While the calm appeared to bring a sense of relief to the more than 2 million Gazans and hundreds of thousands of Israelis who have been largely confined to bomb shelters in recent days, the agreement did nothing to address the underlying problems that fueled the multiple rounds of attacks. fighting between Israel and Palestinian militants in the Gaza Strip for years.
In Gaza, Islamic Jihad spokesman Tarek Selmi said Israel had agreed to end its policy of targeting the group’s leaders. “Any stupidity or murder on the part of the occupier will be met with a response and the Zionist enemy is responsible,” he said.
But in a statement thanking Egypt for its mediation efforts, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s national security adviser Tzahi Nanegbi said “silence will be answered with silence” and Israel would do “whatever it needs to defend itself “.
Tensions could quickly reignite next week when Israel holds a controversial march along the main Palestinian thoroughfare in Jerusalem’s Old City.
Yet as the truce settled in, the deafening whistling of rockets and strikes by Israeli aircraft was replaced by car horns in Gaza. Streets that had been deserted in recent days quickly filled with people reveling in the ceasefire, waving Palestinian flags and flashing victory signs from speeding cars. In the midst of the celebration, a fruit vendor used the loudspeaker to enthusiastically advertise his supply of bananas.
The latest outbreak of violence was on Tuesday when Israeli airstrikes three high-ranking Islamic Jihad commanders were killed. Israel said the airstrikes were in response to rocket fire last week and that its attacks were aimed at Islamic Jihad targets. But Gazans said the homes of people not involved in the fighting were also damaged.
At least 10 civilians, including women, young children and uninvolved neighbors, were killed in those first strikes, which drew condemnation from the region.
Israel has carried out more airstrikes in the past few days, killing other senior Islamic Jihad commanders and destroying their command centers and missile launch sites. But the airstrikes showed no signs of stopping the rocket fire, prompting Islamic Jihad to declare victory.
Israel reported more than 1,200 launches during the fighting, with some rockets reaching areas of Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. Israel said about a quarter of the rockets misfired and landed in Gaza, while most of the rest were either intercepted or landed in open areas. But an 80-year-old woman and a Palestinian worker working in Israel were killed by rocket fire. A Palestinian rights group said three people, including two children, were killed in a rocket attack in Gaza.
It was the latest in a long series of battles between Israel and Palestinian militants in Gaza since the Islamic militant group Hamas seized control of the coastal territory in 2007. Israel and Hamas have fought four wars, and there have been numerous smaller explosions.
Saturday’s deal did not address many of the causes of the repeated fighting, including Israel’s ongoing blockade of Gaza, the large arsenals of weapons held by Hamas and Islamic Jihad, and Israel’s policies in the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem.
Israel captured the West Bank, East Jerusalem and Gaza in the 1967 Middle East War. The Palestinians claim all three territories of the future state. Israel withdrew from Gaza in 2005, but Hamas has since seized the territory and driven out forces loyal to the internationally recognized Palestinian Authority.
Israel and Egypt maintain the blockade of Gaza in what Israel sees as a policy aimed at preventing Hamas from arming itself. Palestinians and international rights groups say the policy, which restricts the movement of people and goods in and out of Gaza, amounts to collective punishment.
The Palestinian Authority, which governs the semi-autonomous parts of the West Bank, said Gaza’s main cargo crossing point with Israel would reopen on Sunday. The Hamas government warned on Saturday that unless the crossing opens, Gaza’s only power plant will shut down, further deepening the electricity crisis.
The more powerful Hamas praised the strikes by Islamic Jihad but stayed away during the latest round of fighting, limiting the scope of the conflict. With the de facto government responsible for the dire conditions in the blockaded Gaza Strip, Hamas has recently tried to contain its conflict with Israel. Islamic Jihad, on the other hand, a more ideological and recalcitrant militant group with a penchant for violence, has taken the lead in the last few rounds of fighting Israel.
In a reminder of the volatile situation in the occupied West Bank, the Israeli military raided the Balata refugee camp near the northern city of Nablus, sparking a firefight who killed two Palestinians. In another incident near the northern city of Jenin, Israeli police said they shot dead a Palestinian suspect who rushed toward soldiers with a knife.
Israeli-Palestinian fighting escalates in Israeli-led West Bank right government in history. Since the beginning of the year, 111 Palestinians have been killed in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, at least half of them by militants, according to an Associated Press count. During this time, 20 people were killed as a result of Palestinian attacks on Israelis.
The truce could be further tested on Thursday, when Israeli nationalists plan their annual “Jerusalem Day” march through the Muslim quarter of Jerusalem’s Old City. The march, which commemorates Israel’s 1967 capture of the Old City and its Jewish holy sites, is a frequent source of friction and helped fuel the 2021 11-day war with Hamas.
On Saturday, Palestinians in Gaza ventured to assess the damage caused by Israeli warplanes and salvage what they could from four destroyed houses in the densely populated area. Residents deny the army’s claims of an attack on Islamic Jihad targets.
“We don’t have any missile launch sites at all. This is a residential area,” Awni Obeid said next to the wreckage of a three-story building in downtown Deir el-Balah.
The nearby house of his relative Jehad Obeid was also razed to the ground.
“I wanted to throw up because of the dust,” he said. “This is extreme hatred. They claim that they don’t hit children, but we see madness, destruction.”