Tense calm between Israel, Islamic Jihad appears to hold, ending 5-day conflict

Israel's Iron Dome missile defense system fires interceptors at rockets launched from the Gaza Strip, in Ashkelon, southern Israel. Saturday, May 13, 2023. (Photo: AP/Tsafrir Abayov)

A tense ceasefire between Israel and Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) in Gaza appeared to hold Sunday morning, despite brief rocket attacks from the Gaza Strip late Saturday night and retaliatory bombardment by the Israel Defense Forces after the 10 p.m. ceasefire went into effect.

The Egyptian-brokered ceasefire ends five days of intense combat in which more than 1,200 rockets were fired at Israel. In response, the Israeli military targeted Islamic Jihad members, command centers, rocket launchers, and capabilities in the Palestinian enclave.

Late Saturday night, rocket alerts sounded in southern and central Israel, prompting the IDF to launch retaliatory strikes in the Gaza Strip against two underground Islamic Jihad rocket launchers.

Sunday at noon, restrictions on movement and gathering for those within 40 kilometers (25 miles) of Gaza will be lifted. The Home Front Command instructed residents of communities near the enclave to spend the night in bomb shelters and announced that restrictions on movement and gathering would be lifted for those within 40 kilometers (25 miles) of Gaza.

Sunday at 6 a.m., roads near the border that had been closed out of concern of anti-tank guided missile attacks reopened after military assessments. Similarly, restrictions on residents beyond 40 kilometers of Gaza were lifted simultaneously.

School closures, work closures — unless employees have a bomb-safe room they can reach in time — and a ten-person limit on outdoor gatherings are mandated by Home Front Command regulations for those near the Palestinian enclave. In these areas, indoor gatherings were limited to 100 individuals.

In addition, special education institutions are permitted to operate in areas close to Gaza, so long as there is a bomb-safe room that students and teachers can access in an emergency.

Given that Gazan terrorist groups have previously violated cease-fires, the announcement may be a precautionary measure. Hadar Goldin, a member of the Israel Defense Forces, was murdered by Hamas. His corpse was dragged into a tunnel during the 2014 Gaza war, shortly after a ceasefire was supposed to take effect.

As the ceasefire took hold late Saturday in Gaza City, the deafening sounds of incoming rockets and Israeli airstrikes were displaced by the honking of cars. People celebrated the armistice by waving Palestinian flags and flashing victory signs from speeding vehicles, filling streets that had been deserted in recent days. A fruit vendor used a loudspeaker to promote his banana supply during the festivity enthusiastically.

In a speech following the cease-fire agreement, the leader of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad, Ziad Nakhaleh, proclaimed the "end of another round of conflict with the Zionist project."

As reported by Hebrew-language media, Nakhaleh, based in Syria, where the Iranian-backed terror group also operates, stated that it "lost many of our dear brothers" and that "we part from them with pride." "A nation whose leaders have died as shahids [martyrs] will never be defeated," he continued.

In its Saturday evening announcement, Egypt stated that the parties have agreed to a ceasefire beginning at 10 p.m., which includes "a commitment to immediately cease attacks on civilians and the destruction of homes, as well as harm to people."

Cairo stated that it expects Israel and Islamic Jihad to adhere to the agreement despite conflicting reports regarding its contents.

In Gaza, Islamic Jihad spokesman Tareq Selmi reported that Israel had consented to cease its policy of targeting the group's leaders with airstrikes. "Any stupidity or assassination committed by the occupation will be met with a response, and the Zionist enemy bears the responsibility," he said.

In a statement thanking Egypt for its "vigorous efforts" to negotiate an end to the combat, the national security adviser to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Tzachi Nanegbi, said that "quiet would be met with quiet" and that Israel would do "whatever it takes to defend itself."

In an official statement released by the so-called "Joint Room" of Palestinian factions in the Gaza Strip, which includes both Islamic Jihad and Gaza-ruling Hamas, the groups declared that "the round of fighting is over" but warned that if "the policy of assassinations [renews],... we are ready to pull the trigger."

A senior Egyptian official familiar with the negotiations between Israel and Palestinian Islamic Jihad told The Times of Israel on Saturday evening that Israel would not sign a ceasefire agreement containing conditions other than the IDF ceasing fire.

PIJ has demanded that Israel liberate the body of senior member Khader Adnan, who died earlier this month following a hunger strike in protest of his uncharged detention in Israel. The Islamic Jihad has also demanded that Israel stop assassinating its leaders, according to the Egyptian official, who added that Israel has refused to include either demand in a ceasefire agreement.

The Egyptian official told The Times of Israel on Friday that Cairo was determined to mediate a ceasefire before Thursday's controversial rally of Israeli religious nationalists through the Muslim Quarter of Jerusalem's Old City, which Cairo fears could inflame tensions to an irreversible degree.

The Flag March occurs annually on Jerusalem Day. Thousands of predominantly Orthodox participants marched from Independence Park to the Western Wall to commemorate Israel's reunification of East and West Jerusalem during the 1967 Six-Day War. The march has acquired notoriety over the years because it is frequently marred by anti-Palestinian rhetoric and violence by young Jewish participants.

In the past two years, the Biden administration has urged Israel to alter the trajectory of the march so that it passes through the Old City's Jaffa Gate instead of the Damascus Gate, thereby avoiding the heavily Palestinian-populated Muslim Quarter.

A senior Israeli official told The Times of Israel last week that it was unlikely that the government would alter the march's route.

Five days of combat

In response to rocket fire from Gaza earlier this month, Operation Shield and Arrow, known in the military, was initiated early on Tuesday with the killing of three senior Islamic Jihad commanders. Subsequent Israeli strikes killed at least three more senior members of the terrorist organization supported by Iran.

As of Saturday afternoon, at least 1,234 projectiles had been launched during the conflict by Gazan fighters, who began launching rockets in response to the bombardment on Wednesday afternoon, according to military figures.

The IDF reported that its air defense systems, Iron Dome and the medium-range David's Sling, intercepted 373 missiles, or 91% of the projectiles aimed at populated areas. Multiple rockets have landed within communities, killing one and injuring a number of others in addition to causing extensive damage.

According to the IDF, the remainder landed in open areas without causing any damage. Most missiles targeted Israeli cities in the south, but some reached as far north as Tel Aviv.

During the campaign, the military also reported conducting missiles against 371 Islamic Jihad targets.

At least 976 projectiles crossed the border, while 221 fell short in Gaza, with at least four Palestinians believed to have been slain.

Since the IDF launched the operation, two Israeli civilians have been slain by Islamic Jihad rockets: an Israeli woman in Rehovot and a Palestinian man from Gaza working in a greenhouse near the southern city of Shokeda.

Additionally, at least 69 Israelis have been injured. According to the Magen David Adom emergency service, twenty-seven individuals were injured by shrapnel. They shattered glass due to rocket impacts, one of them gravely and four of them moderately.

In the meantime, Israel has slain 18 Islamic Jihad operatives and at least 10 Palestinian civilians, according to an IDF official. The Hamas-run Gaza health ministry reported 33 fatalities, but the IDF official noted that some Palestinian civilians were likely slain by Islamic Jihad rockets that landed within the Strip.

According to the enclave's health ministry, 151 additional Palestinians have been injured.

Publish : 2023-05-14 10:36:00

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