A tense ceasefire between Israel and Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) in Gaza appeared to hold Sunday morning, following brief rocket attacks from the Gaza Strip late in the night and retaliatory Israel Defense Forces airstrikes after the 10 p.m. truce went into effect.
The Egyptian-brokered ceasefire put a stop to five days of intense fighting that saw over 1,200 rockets launched at Israel, with the Israeli military responding by targeting Islamic Jihad members, command centers, rocket launchers and capabilities in the Palestinian enclave.
Late Saturday, rocket alerts sounded in southern and central Israel, leading the IDF 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 Strip to remain near bomb shelters overnight and then lifted restrictions on movements and gatherings for those within 40 kilometers (25 miles) of Gaza at noon on Sunday.
Roads near the border that were shut for fear of anti-tank guided missile attacks reopened at 6 a.m. Sunday, following military assessments.
Other Home Front Command rules 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 within 40 kilometers of the Gaza Strip. Indoor gatherings were restricted to 100 people in those areas. Additionally, special education schools were permitted to operate, provided there was a bomb-safe room that school kids and teachers can reach in time.
Those restrictions were lifted at 6 a.m. for residents living between 7 kilometers and 40 kilometers from Gaza, while for border towns, the rules were lifted at noon on Sunday.
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 shortly after a ceasefire was supposed to have gone in place.
In Gaza City late Saturday, as the truce took hold, the deafening whooshes of outgoing rockets and booms of Israeli airstrikes were replaced by the honking of cars. Streets that had been desolate in recent days quickly teemed with people reveling in the ceasefire, waving Palestinian flags and flashing victory signs from speeding vehicles. Amid the celebration, a fruit vendor used a loudspeaker, enthusiastically promoting his supply of bananas.
In a speech following the truce agreement, Palestinian Islamic Jihad leader Ziad Nakhaleh declared the “end of another round of conflict with the Zionist project.”
Nakhaleh, who is based in Syria where the Iranian-backed terror group also operates, said it “lost many of our dear brothers” and “we part from them with pride,” as cited in Hebrew-language media. “A nation whose leaders died as shahids [martyrs] will never be defeated,” he added.
In its announcement on Saturday evening, Egypt said the parties agreed to a ceasefire starting at 10 p.m., which includes “a commitment to stop the attacks on civilians and the destruction of homes, as well as the harm to people immediately, from the start of the ceasefire.”
Cairo said it expects Israel and Islamic Jihad to abide by the agreement, amid contradictory reports on its contents.
In Gaza, Islamic Jihad spokesman Tareq Selmi said Israel had agreed to halt its policy of targeted strikes on the group’s leaders. “Any stupidity or assassination by the occupation will be met with a response and the Zionist enemy bears the responsibility,” he said.
But in a statement thanking Egypt for its “vigorous efforts” to negotiate an end to the fighting, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s national security adviser, Tzachi Nanegbi, said that “quiet would be answered with quiet” and Israel would do “everything that it needs to in order to defend itself.”
In an official statement by the so-called “Joint Room” of Palestinian factions in the Gaza Strip, which includes both Islamic Jihad and Gaza-ruling Hamas, the groups said “the round of fighting is over” but warned that if “the policy of assassinations [renews]… we are ready with a firm finger on the trigger.”
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 a hunger strike in protest of his detention in Israel without charge. Islamic Jihad has also demanded that Israel commit to halting assassinations of its leaders, the Egyptian official said, adding that Israel refused the inclusion of either demand in a ceasefire deal.
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 feared could inflame tensions to a point of no return.
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.
Five days of fighting
Operation Shield and Arrow, as it is known in the military, was launched early Tuesday with the killing of three top Islamic Jihad commanders in the wake of rocket fire from Gaza earlier this month. Subsequent Israeli strikes killed at least three other senior figures of the Iranian-backed terror group.
Gazan fighters, who began firing rockets in response to the bombing on Wednesday afternoon, launched at least 1,234 projectiles during the conflict as of Saturday afternoon, according to military figures.
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. In total, two civilians in Israel were killed by Islamic Jihad rockets since the IDF launched the operation — an Israeli woman in Rehovot and a Palestinian man from Gaza who was working in a greenhouse near the southern agricultural community of Shokeda.
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 976 of the projectiles crossed the border, while 221 fell short in Gaza — with some of them believed to have killed four Palestinians.
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.
The military also said it had carried out strikes against 371 targets belonging to Islamic Jihad during the campaign.
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 Islamic Jihad rockets that landed inside the Strip.
Another 151 Palestinians in Gaza have been injured, according to the enclave’s health ministry.