Israel and the Islamic Jihad group in the Gaza Strip agreed to an Egyptian-brokered cease-fire late Saturday, ending five days of intense fighting that left 33 Palestinians, including at least 13 civilians dead. Two people in Israel were killed by rocket fire.
The Egyptian-brokered cease-fire took effect just after 10 p.m., with a last-minute burst of rocket fire and Israeli airstrikes stretching several minutes past the deadline announced by Egypt.
While the calm brought a sense of relief to Gaza’s more than 2 million people and hundreds of thousands of Israelis who had been confined to bomb shelters in recent days, the agreement did nothing to address the underlying issues that have fueled numerous rounds of fighting between Israel and Palestinian militant groups in the Gaza Strip.
Tensions could quickly resume next week when Israel holds a contentious march through a main Palestinian thoroughfare in Jerusalem’s Old City.
Still, as the truce took hold, the deafening whooshes of outgoing rockets and booms of Israeli airstrikes was replaced by the honking of cars in Gaza. 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.
Islamic Jihad leader Mohamad al-Hindi had told the al Kahera Wal Nas channel that the Egyptian-brokered deal would go into effect at 10 p.m. local time (1900 GMT).
“Now, this agreement has been reached thanks to continuous Egyptian effort. We appreciate this effort,” he said.
There was no Israeli comment on the cease-fire announcement. But the Egyptian station had earlier reported a deal was imminent.
Egypt frequently acts as a broker between Israel and Palestinian militant groups in Gaza.
The latest violence erupted Tuesday when Israeli airstrikes killed three senior Islamic Jihad commanders. Israel said the airstrikes were in response to a heavy burst of rocket fire the previous week and that its attacks have been focused on Islamic Jihad targets. But residents in Gaza said homes of people uninvolved in fighting also had been struck.
At least 10 civilians, including women, young children and uninvolved neighbors were killed in those initial strikes, which drew regional condemnation.
Over the past few days, Israel has conducted more airstrikes, killing other senior Islamic Jihad commanders and destroying their command centers and rocket-launching sites. But the airstrikes showed no signs of stopping the rocket fire.
Israel reported over 1,200 launches throughout the fighting, with some rockets reaching as far as the Tel Aviv and Jerusalem areas. Israel said about a quarter of the rockets were misfired and landed in Gaza, while most of the rest were either intercepted or landed in open areas. But an 80-year-old woman and a Palestinian laborer who was working inside Israel were killed by rocket fire.
There were no immediate details on the terms of the cease-fire. Islamic Jihad had been demanding a halt to Israel’s policy of targeting its leaders. Israel has only said it would offer quiet for quiet.
It was the latest in a long series of battles between Israel and Palestinian militants in Gaza since Hamas seized control of the seaside territory in 2007.
But the deal was unlikely to address the many issues that have fueled the repeated fighting, including Israel’s ongoing blockade of Gaza, the large arsenals of weapons possessed by Hamas and Islamic Jihad and Israeli policies in the occupied West Bank and east Jerusalem.
Israel captured the West Bank, east Jerusalem and Gaza in the 1967 Mideast war.
In a reminder of the combustible situation in the occupied West Bank, the Israeli military raided the Balata refugee camp near the northern city of Nablus, sparking a firefight that killed two Palestinians. In a separate incident near the northern city of Jenin, Israeli police said they shot and killed a suspected Palestinian assailant who ran toward soldiers wielding a knife.
Israeli-Palestinian fighting has surged in the West Bank under Israel’s most right-wing government in history. Since the start of the year, 111 Palestinians have been killed in the West Bank and east Jerusalem, at least half of them affiliated with militant groups, according to a tally by The Associated Press — the highest death toll in some two decades. In that time, 20 people have been killed in Palestinian attacks on Israelis.
The truce could be further tested on Thursday when Israeli nationalists plan their annual “Jerusalem Day” march through the Muslim Quarter of Jerusalem’s Old City. The march, meant to celebrate Israel’s capture of the Old City and its Jewish holy sites in 1967, is a frequent source of friction and helped spark and 11-day war with Hamas in 2021.
On Saturday, Palestinians ventured out to assess the damage wrought by Israeli warplanes and salvage whatever they could. One man carefully pulled documents out from under the rubble. Another carried away a mattress.
Four homes in densely populated residential neighborhoods were reduced to dust in the pre-dawn attacks. The Israeli military alleged the targeted homes belonged to or were used by Islamic Jihad militants. The residents denied the army’s claims and said they had no idea why their homes were targeted.
“We have no rocket launching pads at all. This is a residential area,” said Awni Obaid, beside the debris of what was his three-story house in the central town of Deir al-Balah.
The nearby house of his relative, Jehad Obaid, was also leveled. He had been standing some hundred meters away when his apartment was bombed.
“I felt like vomiting because of the dust,” he said. "This is extraordinary hatred. They claim they don’t strike at children, but what we see is craziness, destruction.”