Israel, US, UN thank Egypt for role in mediating ceasefire with Islamic Jihad in Gaza

UN lauds truce, calls on all parties to observe deal; national security adviser warns Israel ‘will do everything it needs to to protect itself’; Washington also thanks Qatar

Rockets are fired from Gaza City towards Israel on May 13, 2023.(MAHMUD HAMS / AFP)
Rockets are fired from Gaza City towards Israel on May 13, 2023.(MAHMUD HAMS / AFP)

Israel, the United States, and the United Nations thanked Egypt for its role in mediating a delicate ceasefire with the Palestinian Islamic Jihad terror group in Gaza on Saturday night, bringing five days of intense fighting between the two sides to a cautious end.

National Security Adviser Tzachi Hanegbi offered his gratitude to Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi for his efforts to broker the agreement, according to a brief statement from the Prime Minister’s Office Saturday.

Hanegbi stressed that “quiet will be answered with quiet, and if Israel is attacked and threatened, it will do everything it needs to in order to protect itself.”

The US also welcomed the ceasefire agreement on Saturday, commending Egypt as well as Qatar for their role in brokering the deal.

White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said US officials “worked closely with regional partners to achieve this resolution to the hostilities to prevent further loss of life and restore calm for both Israelis and Palestinians.”

“We are grateful for the critical diplomatic efforts of President Abdel Fattah El Sissi and senior Egyptian officials, as well as Emir Sheikh Tamim Bin Hamad Al Thani of Qatar,” she added in a White House statement.

Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sissi speaks during a press conference in Yerevan, on January 29, 2023. (KAREN MINASYAN / AFP)

Secretary of State Antony Blinken spoke with Qatari Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani on Saturday to thank him “for Qatar’s partnership and important efforts to de-escalate violence throughout the recent hostilities,” State Department Spokesperson Matthew Miller said in a statement.

The US “commends Egypt’s crucial role in mediating the ceasefire agreement, which will prevent the further loss of civilian lives. We also recognize Qatar’s robust efforts to de-escalate the situation and end the hostilities, as well as the international community’s support for the ceasefire,” Miller said, adding that “our team worked tirelessly in cooperation with our partners to support these efforts.”

Miller added that Washington was reaffirming the US’ “ironclad commitment to Israel’s security, as reflected in our ongoing support for Iron Dome and other Israeli missile defense systems. We will remain engaged with our partners to promote calm in the weeks and months ahead.”

“We want to thank Egypt for its efforts,” Islamic Jihad political department official Mohammad al-Hindi told AFP. He has been in Cairo since the fighting erupted on Tuesday.

The ceasefire took effect just after 10 p.m. on Saturday, with a last-minute burst of rocket fire from Gaza, as sirens sounded in southern and central Israel, and retaliatory Israeli airstrikes stretching several minutes past the deadline announced by Cairo. Late Saturday night, Israel reported additional incoming fire and said it again struck in Gaza, targeting two underground rocket launchers belonging to Islamic Jihad.

Qatar’s Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani in London, on May 5, 2023. (Daniel LEAL / AFP)

But the calm appeared to be quickly restored, ending an operation that included Israeli assassinations of Islamic Jihad leaders in Gaza and airstrikes that targeted over 300 sites belonging to the terror group. The group launched over 1,000 rockets at Israel over the course of the week, killing two civilians — an elderly woman in Rehovot and a laborer from Gaza who was working in a greenhouse near the southern Israeli town of Shokeda.

UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process Tor Wennesland called on Israel and Islamic Jihad to observe the ceasefire on Saturday and said he was “deeply saddened by the loss of life and injuries, including children and women, from Israeli airstrikes in Gaza and the indiscriminate firing of rockets toward Israel by Palestinian Islamic Jihad and other militant groups.”

“I look forward to the immediate restoration of humanitarian access and all social and economic measures to support Palestinian livelihoods in Gaza,” Wennesland said in a statement.

Meanwhile, National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir said the operation was “good and important,” but warned that his far-right party should not remain silent on security issues, in a discussion with his Otzma Yehudit lawmakers on Saturday, according to the Ynet news site.

“The next operation needs to be in Judea and Samaria,” Ben Gvir said, using the biblical name for the West Bank. “Quite a few terrorists come from there, so the next requirement is targeted killings there as well.”

National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir gives a press statement during a meeting of his Otzma Yehudit party in the southern city of Sderot, May 3, 2023. (Flash90)

“If Likud spokespeople thought that I will come with my tail between my legs, the situation is the opposite, I come with a feeling that I influenced the operation. We will not topple the right-wing government but we won’t sit in a government that tows a line that is not right-wing,” he said.

Before the launch of Operation Shield and Arrow, as it is called in the military, Ben Gvir had led a standoff with the government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, boycotting a cabinet meeting last Sunday and threatening to boycott votes or even quit the 64-seat coalition over his party’s displeasure with the handling of several security issues.

With the start of the operation on Tuesday morning, Ben Gvir said he was ending the boycott.

Several Hebrew media reports indicated that Ben Gvir was intentionally left out of the deliberations and decision-making on the launch of the operation over fears that he would leak information before it began. Netanyahu is seen as distrusting his police minister, repeatedly keeping him out of critical decision-making on security matters.

With Saturday’s ceasefire in effect, Religious Zionism MK Michal Woldiger suggested that Israel should take a harder line with Gaza’s Hamas rulers, who have stayed out of this round of fighting.

“Hamas is the ruler of Gaza, and as such we much bring them to a situation in which it surrenders,” he tweeted, adding Hamas should be forced to return “the citizens held there and Hadar and Oron,” in reference to Israeli soldiers Hadar Goldin and Oron Shaul, who were killed in the 2014 Gaza war and whose remains are being held by Hamas.

“Only then, it will be a ‘ceasefire’ that can be lived with,” said Woldinger.

Hamas spokesperson Abdel Latif Al-Qanua said the round of violence ended as a “victory for the resistance.”

The so-called “Joint Operations Room” of various Palestinian terror factions including Hamas and Islamic Jihad warned in a statement that their “finger was on the trigger” if Israel resumed its policy of assassinating terror groups’ commanders.

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

National Unity party chair Benny Gantz, a former defense minister and IDF chief who is also a key member of the opposition, welcomed the ceasefire announcement, tweeting that “the State of Israel and Israelis proved once again in recent days their strength and sent a clear message to terror organizations — against our enemies, we stand together, as one powerful fist.”

Gantz warned that “it wasn’t over” and urged residents of southern Israel to adhere to authorities’ instructions.

Residents of communities near the enclave were instructed to remain near bomb shelters overnight, with restrictions on movements and gatherings for those within 40 kilometers (25 miles) of Gaza set to lift at noon on Sunday. Roads near the border that were shut for fears of anti-tank guided missile attacks during the operation were set to reopen at 6 a.m. Sunday, the IDF said, following military assessments. Likewise, restrictions on residents beyond 40 kilometers from Gaza would lift at 6 a.m. on Sunday.

Home Front Command rules have mandated school closures, work closures — unless employees have a bomb-safe room they can reach in time — and limits to outdoor gatherings to no more than 10 people for those near the Palestinian enclave. Indoor gatherings are restricted to 100 people in those areas.

Over the course of the five-day operation, Israel 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 Islamic Jihad rockets that landed inside the Strip. Another 151 Palestinians in Gaza were injured, according to the enclave’s health ministry.

Gazan fighters, who began firing rockets in response to the Tuesday bombings on Wednesday afternoon, launched over 1,200 projectiles during the conflict as of Saturday morning.

Palestinians and supporters of the Islamic Jihad terror group celebrate in Gaza City after a ceasefire agreement with Israel was reached on Saturday, May 13, 2023. (MOHAMMED ABED/AFP)

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 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. At least 77 Israelis were also wounded in the rocket attacks.

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

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