Terror groups say truce will come into effect at 10 p.m.

Islamic Jihad announces ceasefire, but Gaza attacks, Israeli strikes persist

Iran-backed group says it completed ‘retaliation’ for killing of 3 members, but will respond to to any further ‘aggression’; security official says Israel ‘skeptical’ of PIJ claim

A boy walks inside a kindergarten's playground that was hit by a missile fired from the Gaza Strip in the city of Sderot, Israel, February 24, 2020. (AP Photo/Tsafrir Abayov)
A boy walks inside a kindergarten's playground that was hit by a missile fired from the Gaza Strip in the city of Sderot, Israel, February 24, 2020. (AP Photo/Tsafrir Abayov)

The Islamic Jihad terror group in the Gaza Strip announced a unilateral ceasefire Monday evening to end two days of heavy fighting with Israel, but rocket attacks continued into the night, along with Israeli airstrikes on Islamic Jihad targets.

In a short statement, the Iranian-backed group said it had completed its “retaliation” for Israel’s killing of three members. But it said it would respond to any further Israeli “aggression.”

Palestinian terror groups said the ceasefire would come into effect at 10 p.m., the Gaza-based Dunya al-Watan news site reports, citing “well-placed sources.”

An Israeli security official confirmed that Israel received “messages from various ranks within the Palestinian Islamic Jihad organization regarding a desire for an immediate ceasefire.”

The official, who spokes anonymously, said Israel was “skeptical” of the requests by the Islamic Jihad. “The IDF will continue to act until quiet is restored to the south,” the official said.

A source in Islamic Jihad also expressed skepticism as to whether the ceasefire would hold, telling Palestine Today, which is linked to the terror group: “The talk about setting specific times for a ceasefire is incorrect. It is dependent on the occupation halting its aggression.”

Shortly after the Israeli official made his comments, rocket sirens sounded in communities in the Eshkol and Sdot Negev regions of southern Israel, in what appeared to be fresh mortar attacks.

Though Islamic Jihad said it had finished its retaliation, the IDF was still striking targets in the Strip in the minutes after the terror group made its announcement.

Palestinian media reported that the Israeli attack targeted an Islamic Jihad facility in the city of Deir al-Balah in northern Gaza. The military said it bombed a naval weapons depot and training bases.

The strikes were in response to several large barrages of rockets fired by terrorists from Gaza at cities and communities throughout southern Israel on Monday afternoon, the IDF said.

No physical injuries were reported in those bombardments, though some of the projectiles caused damage to homes and infrastructure in southern Israel. A small number of Israelis sustained minor injuries while running to bomb shelters.

Earlier in the day, the IDF conducted a series of strikes on Palestinian Islamic Jihad sites in the Gaza Strip. The military said this included a rocket launchpad in northern Gaza, which it said was used to fire rockets at Israel earlier in the day, as well as seven observation posts along the border with Israel.

The Hamas-run Gaza health ministry said that no one was injured in the Israeli strikes Monday.

Rockets are launched by Palestinian terrorists in the Gaza Strip toward Israel, February 24, 2020. (AP Photo/Khalil Hamra)

Israel’s military liaison to the Palestinians announced that it would be closing Gaza’s Erez pedestrian crossing, save for “humanitarian cases,” and that it was restricting the Strip’s fishing zone to six nautical miles, from 15. The Kerem Shalom crossing, which bring in the majority of Gaza’s commercial goods, would remain open.

The liaison unit, known formally as the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories, said these measures were in response to the Islamic Jihad’s rocket attacks from the Strip.

Both Israeli and Palestinian officials threatened to step up their strikes if the other side continued its attacks.

“We don’t want a larger war, but we are preparing the plans, and if there is no choice, we will have a forceful campaign,” Defense Minister Naftali Bennett told the mayors of southern Israeli towns Monday.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu appeared to threaten to kill the heads of Gaza’s terror groups if rocket fire from the Strip continued.

“We will continue to strike until the calm returns. If there won’t be quiet, you’ll be next,” Netanyahu said, during a visit to the city of Ashdod.

The Islamic Jihad’s military wing — the al-Quds Brigades — said earlier in the day that it too was prepared to respond if Israel continued to conduct strikes against it.

“We, in the al-Quds Brigades, are ready to confront any aggression. The enemy should know that if it continues [to carry out aggression], we will respond with force and efficiency,” the terror group said.

The round of violence was sparked by an irregular clash along the Gaza border Sunday morning in which Israeli troops shot dead a member Palestinian Islamic Jihad as he planted an improvised explosive device along the border. The Israeli military then retrieved his body, using a bulldozer.

A fireball and smoke rise into the air following an Israeli air strike in Khan Yunis in the southern Gaza Strip in response to rocket attacks by the Palestinian Islamic Jihad terror group throughout the day on February 24, 2020. (SAID KHATIB / AFP)

The retrieval of the corpse was apparently part of Bennett’s announced plan to “hoard” the corpses of Palestinian terrorists in order to use them as “bargaining chips” in negotiations for the release of two Israeli men, and the remains of two fallen Israeli soldiers, who are being held by Hamas in the Gaza Strip.

On Sunday evening, Islamic Jihad and other terror groups fired some 30 rockets at Israel, approximately half of which were intercepted by the Iron Dome missile defense system. The rest landed in open fields. Some shrapnel caused light property damage, but no injuries were reported.

The IDF retaliated with airstrikes on Islamic Jihad facilities in both Syria and Gaza. Two members of the terror group were killed in the airstrikes outside Damascus along with four other pro-Iranian fighters, according to a Britain-based Syrian war monitor.

The border clashes come amid reports of ongoing efforts by Israel to seal a ceasefire agreement with Gaza terror groups, following weeks of intermittent rocket fire and the regular launching of balloon-borne explosive devices into Israel.

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