Israel, Islamic Jihad said to weigh ‘improved’ Egyptian offer for ceasefire in Gaza

New proposal by Cairo to cease hostilities being circulated; Netanyahu to hold assessment on talks, proposal; US ‘stresses urgency’ of reaching an agreement

Israel's Iron Dome missile defense system intercepts rockets launched from the Gaza Strip, in Ashkelon, southern Israel. Thursday, May 11, 2023. (AP/Tsafrir Abayov)
Israel's Iron Dome missile defense system intercepts rockets launched from the Gaza Strip, in Ashkelon, southern Israel. Thursday, May 11, 2023. (AP/Tsafrir Abayov)

Israel and terror group Palestinian Islamic Jihad are weighing a new ceasefire proposal submitted by Egypt on Friday night, amid a lull in rocket fire from the Gaza Strip overnight Friday-Saturday.

Both sides confirmed the new Egyptian offer Friday evening, hours after Israel cut off talks for a ceasefire after the terror group renewed intense rocket fire into Israel on Friday morning. According to Haaretz, there were still no agreements on the new proposal, with Israelis considering whether to even re-enter talks on a cessation of hostilities, which have raged since Tuesday.

According to the report, Islamic Jihad is also dissatisfied with the Egyptian proposal, which according to Palestinian sources, calls for a ceasefire without further commitments from Israel to drop its pursuit of the terror group’s leaders. On Tuesday, Israel killed three top members of the Islamic Jihad group, while subsequent strikes have killed at least three other senior figures including one on Friday afternoon.

Islamic Jihad has demanded that Israel halt assassinations, a proposal Jerusalem has rejected outright.

Meanwhile, Qatar-based Al-Araby TV reported that the new proposal would see a humanitarian truce starting at midnight late Friday, which would include the opening of the Erez and Kerem Shalom Crossings for medical supplies and other aid. It was unclear if that agreement was finalized.

Israel’s Channel 12 reported Friday evening that according to the new “improved” Egyptian proposal, Islamic Jihad was no longer demanding Israel permanently end assassinations, or hand over the body of Khader Adnan, the hunger-striking Islamic Jihad prisoner whose death in Israeli custody precipitated the current round of conflict.

The network also claimed that Islamic Jihad has already sought to end the fighting after suffering significant losses in recent days, but that the organization’s leadership abroad has so far rejected this.

An Israeli man takes cover during an air raid siren warning of incoming rockets fired from the Gaza Strip, in Sderot, Israel, Friday, May 12, 2023. (AP/Tsafrir Abayov)

A senior political source told Channel 13 Friday evening that Israel was prepared to cease fire on the condition that “quiet will be met with quiet” and that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu would hold a security assessment on the matter on Saturday.

“Israel is ready to cease fire but will not accept the fire directed at it. The dialogue with Egypt does exist – but we stopped the ceasefire talks. We will discuss them in the assessment of the situation with the prime minister,” said the source, adding that the conflict can end “in hours but it can also continue for days.”

Israel generally avoids confirming ceasefire agreements with terror groups, but several previous rounds of fighting between the IDF and Gaza have come to a close with international mediation and indirect talks.

Hamas officials told local media early Friday that Egypt has been intensifying its efforts to stop the fighting through “intensive contacts” with both Hamas and Islamic Jihad, whose officials have sent conflicting messages about the talks.

Israel launched airstrikes in the Strip on Friday night, targeting Islamic Jihad command centers in southern Gaza, according to multiple reports in the Hebrew-language media. Over a dozen rocket launchers were also hit in the strikes, according to the reports. In the early hours of Saturday, Palestinian media reported that Israeli jets hit a home in the Shejaiya neighborhood of Gaza City belonging to the father of an Islamic Jihad leader assassinated by Israel in 2019.

That strike was not confirmed by Israel.

Smoke rises above buildings in Rafah, in the southern Gaza Strip, following an Israeli strike on May 12, 2023. (Said Khatib/AFP)

Also Friday night, Hebrew media reports said an anti-tank missile was fired from Gaza into Israel, causing a fire in an unpopulated area near the Palestinian enclave. No injuries were reported.

Just before noon Friday, Israel renewed strikes on the coastal enclave after Islamic Jihad terrorists launched large barrages of mortars on communities near the Strip, and also fired long-range rockets toward the Jerusalem area for the first time in this round of fighting.

The rocket attacks shattered several hours of calm that had raised hopes overnight Thursday-Friday for a deal to end the hostilities, amid efforts by Egypt, as well as Qatar and the United Nations, to broker indirect talks.

This week’s clash began after Israel launched Operation Shield and Arrow with simultaneous airstrikes early Tuesday that killed three Islamic Jihad commanders along with some of their wives and children as they slept in their homes. Israel said it was retaliating for a barrage of rocket fire launched last week by Islamic Jihad following the death of Adnan, from a hunger strike while in Israeli custody.

Talks were also set back on Thursday after Israel assassinated the commander of Islamic Jihad’s rocket division and his deputy. That came before a rocket slammed into a Rehovot home, killing an Israeli woman — the country’s first fatality in the current conflict. She was named on Friday as Inga Avramyan, 80. Her husband was also with her and was wounded in the attack.

At least 33 people in Gaza have been killed since Israel launched the offensive, according to the Hamas-run health ministry in Gaza, and at least 111 more injured.

Military officials have said Israel has killed at least 18 terror operatives but admit the IDF was responsible for the deaths of 10 civilians during the initial strikes, which destroyed residential structures where families were sleeping. Officials believe some Gaza civilians have been killed by Palestinian rocket misfires.

Illustrative: Rockets are launched from Gaza City toward Israel on May 11, 2023, amid fighting between Israel and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad terror group. (Mahmud Hams/AFP)

Gazan fighters, who only began firing rockets in response to the bombing on Wednesday afternoon, launched at least 937 projectiles during the conflict, as of Friday afternoon.

The IDF said air defense systems — Iron Dome and the medium-range David’s Sling — intercepted 296 of the rockets, marking a 91% 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 254 targets belonging to Islamic Jihad during the campaign.

The United States, which along with the European Union has blacklisted Islamic Jihad and Hamas as terrorist groups, urged steps be “taken to ensure that violence is reduced” on Friday.

US Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman, in a call to Strategic Affairs Minister Ron Dermer, “stressed the urgency of reaching a ceasefire agreement in order to prevent any further loss of civilian life,” State Department spokesman Matthew Miller said.

Morocco, which normalized relations with Israel in 2020, said it “firmly condemns recent Israeli attacks on the Gaza Strip, which have left numerous casualties among innocent civilians,” a foreign ministry source said.

In a televised address, the leader of Lebanon’s Iran-backed Hezbollah, Hassan Nasrallah, said the terror group was in touch with the Palestinian factions and stood ready to “provide all possible assistance within certain limits.”

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