Israel and Islamic Jihad agreed to a ceasefire Saturday, after days of violence that have claimed the lives of at least 35 people – almost all of them Palestinians.
More than an hour after the time the ceasefire was due to take effect, sirens continued to sound in Israel, warning of incoming rocket fire, and the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) launched more airstrikes on targets in Gaza, minutes before the ceasefire was due to come into effect.
The head of Israel’s National Security Council Tzachi Hanegbi thanked Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi Saturday night, and expressed Israel’s appreciation for Egypt’s vigorous efforts to bring about a ceasefire, a statement from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office said. Hanegbi was acting on the guidance of Netanyahu, the statement said.
Hanegbi said Israel’s response to the Egyptian initiative means “quiet will be answered quietly, and if Israel is attacked or threatened, it will continue to do everything it needs to do in order to defend itself.”
Hamas, the militant Palestinian movement that runs the Gaza Strip, issued a statement praising Palestinian resistance factions after the ceasefire appeared to take hold.
Hamas “hails the Joint Operations Room of the Palestinian Resistance Factions for defending the Palestinian people against the most recent Israeli aggression against the Gaza Strip,” Hamas spokesperson Hazem Qasem said.
He added that “the unity of the Palestinian resistance is evidence of the Israeli occupation’s failure to provoke strife within the resistance.”
In a statement, UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process Tor Wennesland welcomed the ceasefire and urged “all sides” to observe it.
“I look forward to the immediate restoration of humanitarian access and all social and economic measures to support Palestinian livelihoods in Gaza,” he added.
The violence this week left at least 33 Palestinians dead in Gaza and at least two people in Israel – an Israeli woman and a Palestinian man from Gaza working in Israel.
Word of the agreement came near the end of a day of intense fighting. A rocket launched from Gaza killed a Palestinian man working in Israel and seriously wounded another, Israel medical authorities said Saturday, as cross-border fire showed little signs of easing.
The two men were working in the Negev desert in southern Israel and were hit by shrapnel. IDF spokesman Lt. Col. Richard Hecht tweeted Saturday that the two men were brothers.
The Palestinian man who died is the second death in Israel due to rocket fire from Gaza since hostilities broke out on Tuesday morning.
The incident came as Israel’s military pounded targets in Gaza Saturday while Palestinian militants fired more rockets.
The IDF said it launched a series of attacks on sites which it said belong to Islamic Jihad in the Gaza Strip.
Israel accuses the group of planning attacks and since the flare-up began on Tuesday has killed six of its commanders.
In a televised speech following the ceasefire, Islamic Jihad’s secretary general Ziyad al-Nakhala acknowledged those losses and said the group was prepared to take up arms in the future.
“We are emerging from this battle with our weapons in our hands, and our fighters are still in the field, ready at all times to fight any aggression,” he said.
Islamic Jihad is the second largest armed group in Gaza after Hamas.
More than 1,200 rockets have been launched so far at Israel, said the IDF, which has struck more than 370 targets in Gaza as part of its “Shield and Arrow” campaign, in its fifth day as the ceasefire was declared.
Videos from Gaza showed that the airstrikes appeared to have also hit at least two civilian homes in the northern Gaza Strip on Saturday, but no injuries were reported.
In its statement, the military said IDF fighter jets and aircraft struck launching sites for mortar shells and rockets “used by Islamic Jihad to fire projectiles toward Israel over the last few days.”
Two Palestinian men killed in West Bank
On Friday, at the beginning of an operation the al Quds Brigades of Islamic Jihad called “Revenge of the Free,” Palestinian militants launched rockets towards Jerusalem for the first time, as well as Tel Aviv and Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank.Clashes also took place on Saturday morning in the occupied West Bank and at least two Palestinian men were killed, Palestinian officials said.
Sa’ed Jihad Shaker Mashah, 32, and Adnan Waseem Yousef Al-Araj, 19, were shot in the head with live bullets, the Palestinian Ministry of Health said. At least three other people were injured, the ministry said.
The clash took place in the Balata refugee camp near Nablus in the northern part of the West Bank.
The IDF and Shin Bet security agency said IDF and Israel Border Police forces were raiding “a hideout belonging to terror operatives” in the camp.