After eight days of intensive fighting, during which Palestinian terrorists fired 1,500 rockets at Israel, and Israel made 1,500 airstrikes in Gaza, a ceasefire went into effect on Wednesday night.
The Egyptian-brokered truce officially started at 9:00 Israeli time, and while at least 20 rockets fell after the deadline, the attacks slowed as the night progressed.
The precise terms of the agreement were not immediately clear. The document reportedly calls for an immediate cessation of attacks from both sides, as well as an “opening” of border crossings and the facilitation of the “movement of people and transfer of goods,” which “shall be dealt with” starting Thursday evening.
“In a phone call I had this evening with [US] President [Barack] Obama, I agreed with him that we should give the ceasefire a chance in order to enable a lull in the situation and allow for the citizens of Israel to return to routine,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Wednesday evening during a press conference in Jerusalem. “However, Israel obviously cannot sit idly while our enemy reinforces itself with weapons of terror. Therefore we decided, President Obama and myself, that the United States and Israel would work together to fight the smuggling of weapons to the terror organizations — weapons, virtually all of which come from Iran.” He also said a resort to harsher force “might yet be required.”
Netanyahu did not reveal more details about the ceasefire agreement, and neither did Defense Minister Ehud Barak and Avigdor Liberman, who also spoke at the press conference.
The Egyptian government provided the following text of the agreement, according to Reuters:
“Understanding regarding ceasefire in Gaza Strip:
1. a. Israel shall stop all hostilities on the Gaza Strip land, sea, and air, including incursions and targeting of individuals.
b. All Palestinian factions shall stop all hostilities against Israel, including rocket attacks, and attacks along the border.
c. Opening the crossings and facilitating the movement of people and transfer of goods, and refraining from restricting residents’ free movement, and targeting residents in border areas and procedures of implementation shall be dealt with after 24 hours from the start of the ceasefire.
d. Other matters as may be requested shall be addressed.
2. Implementation Mechanism:
a. Setting up of the zero hour for the ceasefire understanding to enter into effect.
b. Egypt shall receive assurances from each party that the party commits to what was agreed upon.
c. Each party shall commit itself not to perform any acts that would breach this understanding. in case of any observations, Egypt — as the sponsor of this understanding — shall be informed to follow up.”
Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal said Wednesday night that the ceasefire deal bars the IDF from the Gaza border area and frees up trade access to Gaza. “That’s a very different picture from the one painted by Israel of the deal,” commented Channel 2’s senior Arab affairs analyst, Ehud Yaari.
In a joint press conference with Islamic Jihad leader Ramadan Shallah, Mashaal said that Israel “capitulated” to his demands. “The enemy’s leaders failed in their adventure. The border crossings will be opened to people and goods. We were adamant about going ahead with a package deal and despite Israel’s refusal, we got our wish,” Mashaal said.
In Gaza, the ceasefire was welcomed as a decisive victory: celebrations continued deep into the night, as residents massed in the streets, honking car horns, firing guns into the air, making the victory sign with their fingers, and dancing with Palestinian, Hamas and Islamic Jihad flags. “The enemy speaks of an exceptional achievement in the Gaza Strip. We simply say that what happened was a decisive and exceptional defeat in the history of the Zionist entity,” Islamic Jihad chief Shallah said.
Netanyahu painted a different picture of the situation. “We hit their senior commanders, we destroyed thousands of rockets that were aimed toward the South and most of those aimed towards central Israel, and we crushed Hamas’s control facilities.”
Barak said the IDF “fully fulfilled the goals” it had set for itself at the beginning of the operation.
“Following eight days of operations,” the army said in a press release, “the IDF has accomplished its goals in Operation Pillar of Defense, and has inflicted severe damage to Hamas and its military capabilities.”
According to the IDF spokesman, the IAF carried out over 1,500 air strikes against targets in Gaza, including 19 high-level Hamas command centers, 980 underground rocket launchers, 140 smuggling tunnels, 66 tunnels “used for terrorist operations,” 42 Hamas operation rooms and bases, and 26 weapon manufacturing and storage facilities, as well as dozens of long-range rocket launchers and launch sites.
Besides Ahmed Jabari, the head of Hamas’ military wing — whose assassination launched Operation Pillar of Defense — the IAF targeted Hab’s Hassan Us Msamch, a senior operative in Hamas’ police; Ahmed Abu Jalal, a military commander; Khaled Shayer, a senior operative in Hamas’ anti-tank operations; Osama Kadi, a senior operative in the smuggling operations in the southern Gaza Strip; Muhammad Kalb, a senior operative in the aerial defense operations; and Ramz Harb, an Islamic Jihad senior propaganda operative.
Altogether, 177 Palestinians were killed by Israeli air strikes — 120 of them were “engaged in terrorist activities,” an IDF spokesman said. More than 900 Palestinians were injured.
Israel was on the receiving end of a total of 1,506 rockets that were fired from Gaza during Operation Pillar of Defense.
At least 875 rockets, or 58 percent, landed in open areas, and a 58 — 3.8% — exploded in urban areas, according to the IDF. Attempted launches of rockets failed 152 times. The Iron Dome missile defense system scored 421 interceptions, with an overall success rate of 84%.
Five Israelis were killed by rocket fire, one was in critical condition on Wednesday night, and 240 were injured.