Ceasefire between Israel and Gaza militants appears to be holding after days of fighting
A fragile ceasefire between Israeli forces and militants in the Gaza Strip appeared to hold Sunday after a five-day standoff killed 33 Palestinians and two people in Israel.
The latest round of fighting in Gaza was sparked on Tuesday when Israeli jets killed three senior commanders of the Islamic Jihad militant group in response to earlier rocket fire from Gaza. The killings sparked a barrage of gunfire from militants and the blaze threatened to drag the region into another all-out war until an Egyptian-brokered ceasefire takes hold late Saturday.
While the calm seemed to bring a sense of relief to Gaza’s 2 million residents and the hundreds of thousands of Israelis who had been largely confined to bomb shelters in recent days, the deal did nothing. done to address the underlying issues that have fueled many rounds of fighting between Israeli and Palestinian militant groups in the Gaza Strip over the years.
In Gaza, residents surveyed the latest damage to their surroundings, with gaping holes left in apartments serving as what Israel said were hiding places for the six senior Islamic Jihad operatives killed in this round. Gaza’s main cargo crossing with Israel reopened on Sunday after warnings that keeping it closed would force the shutdown of Gaza’s only power plant, deepening an energy crisis.
Israel is gradually lifting restrictions on residents of southern Israel, who have borne the brunt of the rocket fire.
Israeli officials have expressed satisfaction with the latest battle, having killed at least six senior Islamic Jihad members in what they say were localized strikes based on solid intelligence. But at least 13 of those killed in Gaza were civilians, including children as young as 4, as well as women.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said targeted attacks on militant hideouts would reverberate across the region.
“Israel’s enemies in Gaza and far beyond Gaza know that even if they try to hide, we are able and ready to reach them at any time,” he told a meeting. of his office.
Israel has faced criticism in the past from rights groups over civilian casualties from its bombings in Gaza. Israel says it does everything possible to avoid harming civilians in its strikes and says militants operate from densely populated areas of the territory to fire rockets indiscriminately at Israeli communities.
Although some of the strikes were precise, others destroyed the homes of uninvolved Palestinians.
“If they want to target a house, let them target it alone. Why destroy the whole neighborhood? Why?” said Mai Sarson, whose home in Deir el-Balah was reduced to rubble in an Israeli strike.
Throughout the fighting, Israel’s repeated airstrikes targeting Islamic Jihad and its command centers and rocket launch sites showed no signs of stopping rocket fire, prompting Islamic Jihad to declare victory and send jubilant Palestinians to the streets on Saturday night.
The Israeli army reported more than 1,400 hits throughout the fighting, with some rockets reaching the Tel Aviv and Jerusalem areas. Israeli jets hit more than 400 targets, according to a preliminary military tally, which also showed that around a fifth of the rockets missed and landed in Gaza, while most of the rest were intercepted or landed in areas. cleared areas.
An 80-year-old woman and a Palestinian laborer working inside Israel were killed by rocket fire. A Palestinian human rights group said three people, including two children, were killed in Gaza by errant rockets.
It was the latest in a long series of battles between Israeli 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 are also had many small outbreaks.
The more powerful Hamas praised Islamic Jihad strikes but remained on the sidelines in the latest round of fighting, limiting the scale of the conflict. As the de facto government held responsible for the appalling 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 unruly militant group bent on violence, has taken the lead in the latest fighting with Israel.
Saturday’s deal failed to address many causes of the repeated fighting, including Israel’s continued blockade of Gaza, the vast weapons arsenals possessed by Hamas and Islamic Jihad, and Israeli policies in the occupied West Bank and Jerusalem. -East.
The violence in Gaza came after more than a year of fighting in the occupied West Bank, where the Israeli army has staged near-night arrest raids and Palestinians have carried out repeated attacks. Tensions could skyrocket again this week when Israeli nationalists hold an annual march through a sensitive neighborhood in Jerusalem’s Old City that Palestinians see as provocative.
Israel captured the West Bank, East Jerusalem and Gaza in the 1967 Middle East War. The Palestinians claim all three areas for a future state. Israel withdrew from Gaza in 2005, but Hamas then invaded the territory and expelled forces loyal to the internationally recognized Palestinian Authority.
Israel and Egypt have maintained a blockade on Gaza in what Israel says is 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.