Israel and Islamic Jihad reach cease-fire after 44 die in Gaza
(Update 1: adds information)
Jerusalem/Gaza, Aug 7 (EFE).- Israel and the Palestine Islamic Jihad (PIJ) reached a cease-fire agreement on Sunday to halt the violence that has gripped the Gaza Strip for the past three days and left 44 Palestinians, including 15 children, dead and more than 360 injured in Israeli bombardments.
The agreement was mediated by Egypt and announced by Israel and the PIJ, with the parties saying that it would enter into effect at 11:30 pm Sunday night although the announcement was followed by the launching of another series of rockets from the Gaza Strip into Israel.
A few minutes before the cease-fire was due to go into effect, exchanges of gunfire were heard in the zone.
After calm descended, at least for now, hopes are that this accord will mark the end of three bloody days of rocket attacks into Israel from Gaza and Israeli bombardments of Palestinian targets.
Israel had said on Friday that it was launching a “preventive offensive” in Gaza to wipe out PIJ targets.
After multiple failed attempts, the cease-fire negotiations finally reached a successful conclusion with the visit by an Egyptian delegation to the Gaza Strip, where the final details were worked out.
Egypt thus reassumes a decisive role at an interlocutor between Israel and Palestinian militants, just as on past occasions such as the military escalation in May 2021.
Gaza’s health ministry has said that 44 local residents have been killed – including 15 children – in the Israeli strikes. In addition, health authorities report that more than 360 Palestinians have been injured in the violence.
The PIJ, meanwhile, has said that at least nine of its fighters – including the two top commanders of its armed wing – have been killed in the Israeli bombardments.
Israel, on the other hand, has announced no deaths but added that about 40 people have been slightly injured.
During the three days of hostilities, Islamic Jihad launched more than 930 rockets from Gaza into Israel, according to Israeli army estimates, but military sources added that the great majority had landed in unpopulated areas or were intercepted by Israel’s Iron Dome air defense system.
The Israeli bombardments, on the other hand, hit more than 160 targets allegedly belonging to the PIJ, including sites where Israel said that weaponry was being manufactured and stored, sites from where rockets had been launched and a network of tunnels presumably used by the PIJ.
The Israeli attacks also hit apartment buildings, houses and other civilian structures, thus aggravating the humanitarian crisis in the blockaded enclave.
One of the key elements in this escalation of violence was the decision by the Islamist Hamas movement, the de facto governing force within Gaza and which has much greater military strength than the PIJ, not to join in the armed response to the Israeli offensive.
In addition, the rockets launched by the PIJ were mostly short-range missiles, although some rockets were launched in the direction of Tel Aviv and Jerusalem.
According to Mohammad al-Hindi, who heads the Islamic Jihad’s political department in Gaza, among the conditions agreed to in the cease-fire were making Israel’s blockade of Gaza more flexible, allowing fuel to enter the Strip so that local electricity service can be resumed and the release of one of the group’s members currently imprisoned in Israel.
That prisoner is Bassem Saadi, an important leader of the group and the arrest of whom by Israel in the occupied West Bank last Monday marked the start of the increasing tensions that culminated in the bloodiest escalation of violence in more than a year.
Saadi’s arrest motivated the PIJ to threaten reprisal attacks, and that resulted in Israel closing down the border crossing points between the Jewish state and Gaza, thus interrupting the flow of people, goods and fuel in the border communities.
Then, Israel launched its “preventive offensive” on Friday to preempt what it said was an “imminent threat” of attack by Palestinian militants.