Official: Deal shaky given lack of centralized PIJ leadership

Israel, Islamic Jihad agree to ceasefire after five days of fighting

National security adviser and senior PIJ official confirm Egypt-brokered offer; Egyptian official says Jerusalem would only agree to a deal that had ‘no strings attached’

Smoke and fire rise from an explosion caused by an Israeli airstrike targeting a building in Gaza, May 13, 2023. The building was owned by an Islamic Jihad official. (AP/Ashraf Amra)
Smoke and fire rise from an explosion caused by an Israeli airstrike targeting a building in Gaza, May 13, 2023. The building was owned by an Islamic Jihad official. (AP/Ashraf Amra)

Israel and Palestinian Islamic Jihad agreed to a ceasefire that was slated to go into effect at 10 p.m. on Saturday after nearly five days of fighting, a diplomat familiar with the negotiations brokered by Egypt told The Times of Israel. The ceasefire arrangement was later confirmed by both sides.

The ceasefire was due to go into force at 10 p.m., but incoming rocket sirens continued to sound in southern Israel, leading the Israel Defense Forces to launch retaliatory strikes in the Gaza Strip that the military said targeted two underground rocket launchers belonging to Islamic Jihad.

The Home Front Command told residents of communities near the enclave to remain near bomb shelters.

“The resistance is emerging from this conflict united and resolute… [We] caution the enemy against returning to the policy of assassinations. We are ready with a firm finger on the trigger… and if [it] returns [to fighting], we will too,” said the so-called “Joint Room” of Palestinian factions in the Gaza Strip, which includes both Islamic Jihad and Gaza-ruling Hamas.

Roughly 15 minutes before the agreed-upon deadline, rocket sirens were set off in the central Israeli cities of Rishon Lezion and Holon — similar to previous rounds of fighting in which Gaza-based terror groups fired salvos until right before the ceasefires went into effect. Islamic Jihad later took responsibility for the launches.

The rocket sirens were caused by a single rocket launched from the Gaza Strip, which was intercepted by the Iron Dome missile defense system, The Times of Israel has learned.

Israel quickly responded with its own airstrikes to the strikes before 10 p.m., with the IDF saying its aircrafts struck three underground Palestinian Islamic Jihad rocket launchers in the Gaza Strip following the latest rocket fire.

“We’re still holding our breath,” said the unnamed diplomat who confirmed the ceasefire first reported by Reuters. Given that much of PIJ’s leadership has been eliminated by Israel in airstrikes over the past week, the Gaza-based organization is now far less centralized and susceptible to rogue actors from within that make ceasefires harder to implement, the diplomat explained.

Senior Islamic Jihad official Mohamad al-Hindi also confirmed the 10 p.m. ceasefire to the Al Kahera Wal Nas channel. “Now, this agreement has been reached thanks to continuous Egyptian effort. We appreciate this effort.”

Rockets fired from Gaza and intercepted by Israel’s Iron Dome anti-missile system over Israeli skies are seen from Gaza City, May 13, 2023. (AP Photo/Fatima Shbair)

National Security Adviser Tzachi Hanegbi later confirmed that Israel agreed to an Egyptian-proposed ceasefire, while warning the military will respond to any further attacks.

In a brief statement from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office, Hanegbi thanked the Egyptians for their “vigorous efforts” to negotiate an end to the fighting, adding: “Quiet will be answered with quiet, and if Israel is attacked or threatened, it will continue to do whatever it must in order to defend itself.”

Earlier in the evening, the IDF announced that it decided to extend restrictions on movement and gathering for residents living up to 40 kilometers (25 miles) from the Gaza Strip to Monday at 6 p.m.

The IDF said the extension of the restrictions came after an assessment held by military officials, following renewed rocket fire from Gaza at Israel. The rules were supposed to end at 8 p.m. on Saturday.

The Home Front Command rules mandate school closures, work closures — unless employees have a bomb-safe room they can reach in time — and limit outdoor gatherings to no more than 10 people. Indoor gatherings are restricted to 100 people.

Additionally, special education schools are permitted to operate, provided there is a bomb-safe room that school kids and teachers can reach in time.

The announcement may be a precaution though, given that Gazan terror groups have violated ceasefires in the past. IDF officer Hadar Goldin was killed by Hamas and his body was dragged into a tunnel during the 2014 Gaza war, which unfolded shortly after a ceasefire was supposed to have gone in place.

Palestinians inspect the rubble of Islamic Jihad member Zeyad Selmi’s house after it was hit by an Israeli airstrike in Gaza City, Saturday, May 13, 2023. (AP Photo/Fatima Shbair)

Two civilians in Israel have been killed by PIJ rockets since the IDF launched Operation Shield and Arrow — an Israeli woman in Rehovot and a Palestinian man from Gaza who was working in a greenhouse near the southern town of Shokeda.

At least 69 Israelis have also been wounded. Twenty-seven of those people suffered physical injuries from shrapnel and broken glass as a result of rocket impacts, one of them seriously and four of them moderately, according to the Magen David Adom emergency service.

Meanwhile, Israel has killed 18 Islamic Jihad operatives in addition to at least 10 Palestinian civilians, an IDF official said Saturday. The Hamas-run Gaza health ministry put the death toll at 33, but the IDF official noted that some Gaza civilians were likely killed by PIJ rockets that landed inside the Strip. Another 151 Palestinians in Gaza have been injured, according to the enclave’s health ministry.

Earlier Saturday night, a senior Egyptian official familiar with the negotiations between Israel and Palestinian Islamic Jihad told The Times of Israel that Israel would not sign a ceasefire agreement that includes any conditions beyond the IDF holding its fire.

PIJ has pushed for Israel to release the body of its senior member Khader Adnan, who died earlier this month after hunger-striking for 86 days in an Israeli prison. Islamic Jihad has also demanded that Israel commit to halting assassinations of its leaders, the Egyptian official said, adding that Israel has refused the inclusion of either demand in a ceasefire deal.

“[They’re] only willing to cease firing if the other side does too. No strings attached,” the Egyptian official said.

Palestinians watch the funeral of Iyad al-Hassani, an Islamic Jihad commander, in Gaza City Saturday, May 13, 2023. (AP Photo/Fatima Shbair)

On Friday, the Egyptian official told The Times of Israel that Cairo was determined to broker a ceasefire ahead of Thursday’s controversial rally of Israeli religious nationalists through the Muslim Quarter of Jerusalem’s Old City, which Cairo fears could inflame tensions to a point of no return.

“This rally already poses a threat to stability, but if the fighting is still ongoing by then, it will be much harder to stop and it is likely that Hamas will ride this wave and join as well,” the official said.

The so-called Flag March is held every year on Jerusalem Day with its thousands of largely Orthodox participants rallying from Independence Park to the Western Wall to mark Israel’s reunification of East and West Jerusalem during the 1967 Six Day War. The march has gained notoriety over the years, as it is often marred by hate speech and sometimes violence by young Jewish participants toward Palestinians.

In the past two years, the Biden administration has urged Israel to change the route of the march to go through the Old City’s Jaffa Gate, instead of Damascus Gate, thereby avoiding the Muslim Quarter, which is largely populated by Palestinians.

A senior Israeli official told The Times of Israel last week that the hardline government was not likely to reroute the march.

Gazan fighters, who began firing rockets in response to the bombing on Wednesday afternoon, had launched at least 1,234 projectiles during the conflict as of Saturday morning.

Israelis rest in the bomb shelter of an apartment building to stay safe from rockets fired from Gaza Strip toward Israel, in the southern city of Ashkelon on May 13, 2023. (AP Photo/Tsafrir Abayov)

According to the military, at least 976 of the projectiles crossed the border, while 221 fell short in Gaza — with some of them believed to have killed four Palestinians.

The IDF said air defense systems — Iron Dome and the medium-range David’s Sling — intercepted 373 of the rockets, marking a 91 percent interception rate of projectiles heading for populated areas. Several rockets have landed within towns, killing one and injuring several others, as well as causing extensive damage.

The rest landed in open areas without causing damage, according to the IDF. Most rockets targeted towns in southern Israel, but some reached as far north as Tel Aviv.

The military also said it had carried out strikes against 371 targets belonging to Islamic Jihad during the campaign.

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