Tenuous calm holds after Israel-Gaza ceasefire initially broken by rocket fire

IDF: 450 rockets fired at Israel in 48 hours; Hamas: Gaza death toll 34; Israel: Most were terrorists; conflict in which IDF eliminated terror commanders named Operation Black Belt

A child lies inside a bomb shelter in the coastal city of Ashkelon, Israel, amid a two-day bout of rocket fire from the Gaza Strip, November 13, 2019. (Tsafrir Abayov/AP)
A child lies inside a bomb shelter in the coastal city of Ashkelon, Israel, amid a two-day bout of rocket fire from the Gaza Strip, November 13, 2019. (Tsafrir Abayov/AP)

The Israel Defense Forces on Thursday said five rockets were fired at Israel, hours after the military confirmed a ceasefire had been reached with terror groups in Gaza.

In the following hours, however, the fragile ceasefire agreement appeared to stick, with no further violations of the truce recorded.

There were no reports of damage or injuries in the bombardment, which was launched at Netivot and Gaza-area communities.

The IDF earlier had confirmed that a deal was reached to end a two-day bout of violence that paralyzed large parts of Israel and is said to have killed 34 Palestinians, including 25 terrorists.

An IDF spokesman said the latest flareup of violence in Gaza, in which two Palestinian Islamic Jihad commanders were killed and its terror group’s infrastructure was targeted, was dubbed Operation Black Belt.

In a press briefing, a spokesperson for the Israeli military said that around 450 rockets had been launched toward Israel during the recent escalation, of which 60 percent landed in open fields and 90% of the remainder were intercepted.

In a series of tweets, Lt. Col. Avichay Adraee said the Israeli military swiftly achieved its objectives in the fight, having struck a “harsh blow” to the terror group’s weapon capabilities.

Adraee said the operation had ended with Israel having targeted 25 Gaza terrorists, most of them from the Palestinian Islamic Jihad group.

During the two-day round of fighting, Adraee said Israeli airstrikes targeted “terrorist infrastructure” above and below ground as well as Islamic Jihad naval positions.

Palestinian medical workers tend to a wounded youth, a member of a family where eight were killed in an Israeli airstrike, in central Gaza Strip’s Deir al-Balah on November 14, 2019. (ASHRAF AMRA / AFP)

Palestinian Islamic Jihad spokesman Musab al-Berim confirmed the truce earlier on Thursday, telling reporters in Gaza the Egyptian-brokered deal went into effect at 5:30 a.m. Al-Berim said the ceasefire was based on a list of demands presented by his group late Wednesday, including a halt to Israeli targeted killings of the group’s leaders.

According to an Egyptian official, the agreement stipulates that Palestinian factions must ensure a return to calm in Gaza and “maintain peace” during demonstrations, while Israel must stop hostilities and “ensure a ceasefire” during demonstrations by Palestinians.

Israel and Palestinian Islamic Jihad have been exchanging fire since Tuesday, following the targeted killing of a PIJ commander, Baha abu al-Ata, who Israel said was the “prime instigator” of terrorism from Gaza over the past year.

Islamic Jihad, an Iran-backed terrorist group sworn to Israel’s destruction, responded by launching dozens of rockets toward Israel, some reaching as far as Tel Aviv, prompting Israel to carry out scores of airstrikes.

The Hamas-run Health Ministry in Gaza said 34 Palestinians have been killed in the Israeli strikes, including eight Palestinians from a single family who were killed in an Israeli airstrike at their house in Deir al-Balah town, central Gaza. Israel says Rasmi Abu Malhous, an Islamic Jihad terrorist said to head its rocket unit, was killed in the overnight strike on the Gaza Strip in which the family members were killed.

Palestinian health officials have said 18 of those killed were PIJ fighters. Israel said at least 25 were members of the terror organization.

After the ceasefire appeared to take effect Thursday morning, the IDF defended its strikes on private homes in Gaza despite Palestinian reports of civilian deaths, including women and children.

Rockets are fired from the Gaza Strip toward Israel on November 13, 2019. (Anas Baba/AFP)

Lt. Col. Jonathan Conricus told reporters that Islamic Jihad commanders used their homes to store weapons, making them legitimate targets.

Conricus said he didn’t have any information about the eight family members killed by the alleged Israeli strike.

“All of our operations were measured, proportionate and focused only on military assets belonging to the Islamic Jihad,” he said.

Foreign Minister Israel Katz said Israel’s policy of targeted killings had “proved itself” and that it would continue, despite word of the ceasefire.

“Everyone who was a top military official, who was set to carry out and was involved in terror or rocket firing against Israel, was eliminated,” he told Israeli Army Radio. “And we intend to continue with this.”

Gaza’s ruling Hamas terror group, which is much larger and more powerful than Islamic Jihad, stayed out of the latest escalation.

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