GAS – A fragile cease-fire agreement to end nearly three days of fighting between Israel and Palestinian militants in Gaza held as of Monday morning – a sign that the latest round of violence may have abated.
The outbreak was the worst fighting between Israel and armed groups in Gaza since Israel and Gaza’s ruling Hamas fought an 11-day war last year, adding to the destruction and misery that has plagued blockaded Gaza for years.
Since Friday, Israeli jets have been striking targets in Gaza as the Iran-backed Palestinian Islamic Jihad group fired hundreds of rockets at Israel.
In three days of fighting, 44 Palestinians were killed, including 15 children and four women, and 311 were wounded, the Palestinian Ministry of Health said. Islamic Jihad said 12 of those killed were fighters, and Israel said some of the dead were killed by misfired rockets.
On Monday, Israel said it was partially opening the crossings to Gaza for humanitarian needs and would fully open them if calm prevailed. Gaza’s only power plant came back online on Monday after fuel trucks entered a loading point for the first time since crossings with the Strip were closed last week. The shutdown caused a fuel shortage that caused the plant to shut down on Saturday. Gaza suffers from a chronic energy crisis.
The lives of hundreds of thousands of Israelis were disrupted during the violence. Security precautions imposed in recent days on residents of southern Israel were gradually lifted on Monday, the military said.
Both sides boasted of their successes. Speaking to reporters in Tehran on Sunday, Islamic Jihad leader Ziad al-Nahalah said the militant group remained strong despite losing two of its leaders. “This is a victory for Islamic Jihad,” he said.
Despite this claim, the group undoubtedly took a hit during Israel’s furious offensive. In addition to losing its two leaders, it reduced its arsenal by firing hundreds of rockets without hitting a single Israeli, thanks to Israel’s anti-missile defense system, which shot down most of them. Its own rockets may have killed several Gazans, according to Israel.
The cease-fire agreement included a promise that Egypt would work to free two high-ranking Islamic Jihad detainees held by Israel, but there were no guarantees that this would happen. The weekend fighting was also set to complicate Islamic Jihad’s relationship with Hamas.
A senior Israeli diplomatic official said the offensive had set Islamic Jihad’s capabilities back “decades”. The outbreak was a “successful counter-terrorist operation” because Israel achieved its objectives in a short period of time. he said, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss the operation with the media.
The violence threatened to escalate into another all-out war, but was eventually contained as Gaza’s ruling group, Hamas, stayed on the sidelines, possibly fearing Israeli reprisals and breaking economic agreements with Israel, including Israeli work permits for thousands of Gazans. Gaza, who are strengthening their control over the coastal strip.
Israel and Hamas have fought four wars since the group seized the territory in 2007.
Israel launched its operation with a strike on Friday against an Islamic Jihad leader, saying there were “concrete threats” to attack Israelis with anti-tank missiles in response to the arrest last week of another senior Islamic Jihad member in the West Bank. This arrest came after months of Israeli raids in the West Bank to detain suspects following a series of Palestinian attacks on Israel.
He killed another Islamic Jihad leader in a strike on Saturday.
Israel said some of the deaths during that round were caused by errant rocket fire on militants, including one incident in the Jebaliya refugee camp in northern Gaza that killed six Palestinians on Saturday. On Sunday, a shell hit a house in the same area of Jebalia, killing two men. The Palestinians held Israel responsible, while Israel said it was investigating whether the area was hit by an errant rocket.
In the occupied West Bank on Monday, Israeli troops demolished the homes of two Palestinians suspected of carrying out a deadly attack on Israelis in the town of Elad in May. The soldiers faced fierce protest during the operation, the military said.
The outbreak of violence in Gaza has been a key test for Israel’s interim prime minister, Yair Lapid, who has no experience leading military operations. Still, he unleashed the offensive less than three months before a general election in which he is campaigning to retain office.
President Joe Biden said he welcomed the ceasefire between Israel and Gaza-based militants.
“Over the past 72 hours, the United States has worked with officials from Israel, the Palestinian Authority, Egypt, Qatar, Jordan and others throughout the region to promote a swift resolution to the conflict,” he said in a statement Sunday.
The UN Security Council was due to hold an emergency meeting on Monday on the violence. China, which chairs the council this month, scheduled the session in response to a request from the United Arab Emirates, which represents Arab nations on the council, as well as China, France, Ireland and Norway.
“We underline our commitment to do everything possible to end the ongoing escalation, ensure the safety and security of the civilian population, and follow up on the Palestinian prisoners’ record,” said UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process Tor Venesland, in a statement.
The Israeli military said militants in Gaza fired about 1,100 rockets at Israel, with about 200 of them landing in the Palestinian enclave. The army said its air defenses intercepted 380 of them, including two fired at Jerusalem. The military did not say what happened to the rest, but it likely fell into the open or disintegrated in the air.
Islamic Jihad has fewer fighters and supporters than Hamas, and little is known about its arsenal. Both groups call for the destruction of Israel, but have different priorities, with Hamas constrained by demands for governance.
Hamas had a strong incentive to avoid another war. Last year’s war between Israel and Hamas, one of four major conflicts and several smaller battles in the past 15 years, took a staggering toll on 2.3 million Palestinians in the impoverished territory.
Over the past year, Israel and Hamas have reached a tacit understanding based on a calm exchange for work permits and a slight easing of the border blockade imposed by Israel and Egypt when Hamas seized the territory 15 years ago. Israel has issued 12,000 work permits to Gazan workers and has the prospect of granting another 2,000 permits.
Goldenberg reported from Tel Aviv, Israel. Associated Press writer Edith M. Lederer of the United Nations contributed to this report.
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Fragile ceasefire between Israel and Gaza rebels
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