Islamic Jihad announces ceasefire with Israel

Egypt reportedly mediates deal, which comes as IAF strikes targets in the Gaza Strip; Abbas condemns rocket fire

Illustrative: A general view shows the closed gates of the Kerem Shalom crossing between Israel and the southern Gaza Strip, Thursday, March 13, 2014 (photo credit: AFP/Said Khatib)
Illustrative: A general view shows the closed gates of the Kerem Shalom crossing between Israel and the southern Gaza Strip, Thursday, March 13, 2014 (photo credit: AFP/Said Khatib)

The Islamic Jihad movement said on Thursday that a truce had gone into effect to halt a spiraling confrontation with Israel. “An Egyptian-brokered truce went into effect at 2:00 pm,” Islamic Jihad spokesman Daud Shihab told AFP.

There was no immediate confirmation from Israel, and an Israeli official said he was “not familiar” with any ceasefire arrangement.

Islamic Jihad’s announcement came shortly after the IDF said it had launched another airstrike on Gaza in response to several rockets fired from the Strip earlier in the day toward the coastal cities of Ashkelon and Ashdod.

The Israel Air Force struck seven targets in southern Gaza, according to the IDF. Three Palestinians were injured, medical sources in Gaza said.

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas condemned escalating violence, including rocket fire from Gaza. “We condemn all military escalation, including rockets,” he said at a press conference in Bethlehem with British Prime Minister David Cameron.

His statements came hours after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu criticized Abbas for condemning Israeli airstrikes on the Strip, but not the rocket fire from Gaza.

Early Thursday morning, the IDF reported that two additional rockets were fired from Gaza but landed in open areas within the Strip. Later in the morning, alert sirens sounded in coastal cities of Ashdod and Ashkelon as rockets were fired from the Strip. The Iron Dome system downed one of the rockets over Ashkelon, while two others fell in unpopulated areas, bringing the total of rockets fired on Israel to 65 over the past two days, according to the IDF.

German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier joined the chorus of foreign diplomats condemning the fire from Gaza and calling for restraint.

“We strongly condemn yesterday’s rocket attacks fired at Israel from Gaza,” he wrote on his official Facebook page. “…The calculations of those responsible for these acts of terrorism, who hope that these attacks will torpedo the difficult and still fragile peace process, must be proved wrong.

“The negotiations on peace in the Middle East are in a difficult phase. All sides need to make even greater efforts.”

Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon said that Israel’s response to the rocket fire was the harshest since Operation Pillar of Defense in 2012. He added that Israel holds Hamas responsible for all terror activity from Gaza, and if it is not actively preventing rocket fire, then Israel will strike against the organization’s interests.

“Anybody who tries to fire on Israel or is complicit in firing on Israel has signed his own death warrant and we won’t hesitate to strike him at any time,” he said in a statement Thursday. “We will continue to act responsibly and judiciously to protect the citizens of Israel and allow them to live a normal life.”

Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman took to Facebook on Thursday to reiterate statements he made the day before to Channel 2, to the effect that only a full-scale military invasion of Gaza could sufficiently counter the threat.

“The only way to solve this endless circle of terror is to reoccupy Gaza and clean out the stables,” the foreign minister wrote.

The Israel Air Force launched airstrikes on 29 targets in the Gaza Strip Wednesday night in retaliation for over 50 rockets and mortar shells that were fired into Israel earlier that evening.

Israeli military sources said after the late-night retaliatory strikes that Israel would now wait to see how Hamas and Islamic Jihad responded. If there were no further rocket attacks on Israel, the flare-up would be over. But if there was more rocket fire, Israel would again respond.

Palestinians said at least five strategic points were hit in the coastal enclave, primarily in areas around the cities of Khan Younis and Rafah.

Meanwhile, President Shimon Peres reiterated that Hamas was responsible for the situation both in Israel and in Gaza.

“Israel will not allow terrorists to fire at our civilians, under any circumstances,” he said in a statement Thursday. “Hamas must decide how they want to live – fire will be answered with fire, quiet will be answered with quiet.”

Times of Israel staff and AFP contributed to this report.

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