Israel and Gaza militants agree ceasefire

Credit…Yousef Masoud/Associated Press

Israel and Palestinian Islamic Jihad militants in Gaza have agreed to a ceasefire, the two sides announced late Sunday night, a move that was expected to end a three-day conflict that has killed dozens of Palestinians, including children as well as key militant commanders; destroyed several residential buildings and militant bases in Gaza; and crippled parts of southern Israel.

The conflict, which began Friday afternoon when Israel launched airstrikes to thwart what it said was an imminent attack from Gaza, has left the status quo in Israel and the occupied territories almost unchanged. A 15-year blockade on Gaza remains in place and there is no prospect of peace talks to end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

The ceasefire officially took effect at 11:30 p.m. local time, 4:40 p.m. Eastern, but does not appear to have been immediately observed by either side, as rocket fire and airstrikes continued into the minutes after the deadline.

Israeli officials declined to reveal more details of the deal, but Islamic Jihad said it received assurances from Egyptian officials who brokered the talks that Egypt would pressure Israel to release two leading members of the group currently in detention. in Israeli prisons, Bassem Saadi and Khalil Awawdeh. .

If the truce holds, the fighting will end with a death toll of at least 44 in Gaza, including 15 children, according to the Ministry of Health. Some 311 people were injured, the health ministry said. Dozens of Israelis were lightly injured as they ran for cover from Palestinian rockets, and an unexploded rocket landed in a residential area in the southern Israeli city of Ashkelon, officials and doctors said.

The fighting has severely damaged Islamic Jihad, Gaza’s second largest militia. Two of its top leaders are now dead and many of its bases and arms factories have been destroyed.

The eruption of violence has also driven a wedge between Palestinian Islamic Jihad and Hamas, Gaza’s largest militia, which has chosen to remain on the sidelines of the conflict.

And it highlighted both the limits and the strengths of Israel’s strategy of offering small economic concessions to ordinary Gazans — including 14,000 work permits that help boost the Palestinian economy.

This approach has failed to prevent the fighting of the past few days, which has been a new conflagration involving Gaza, which has seen at least six major outbreaks of violence since Hamas took control in 2007. But helping convincing Hamas to stay out of this cycle of rockets and strikes, the strategy likely helped shorten the duration of the fighting, which in the past often lasted weeks rather than days.

Within Israel, the conflict also initially seemed to help restore the credentials of Yair Lapid, Israel’s interim prime minister, who has long been accused by critics in Israel of lacking the experience needed to lead the country in times of war.

Before the announcement of the ceasefire, Israeli analysts widely described the episode as a victory and even as a warning to other enemies of Israel in the region – in particular Hezbollah, the Islamist militia in Lebanon – from fate awaits them if they also enter full-scale combat with Israel in the near future.

In contrast, with no change in life or outlook in Gaza and the West Bank, Palestinians had little to celebrate and many families were mourning the death.

Ghassan Abu Ramadan, 65, a retired civil engineer who was injured in an Israeli strike on Friday, was recovering in hospital on Sunday as the ceasefire was negotiated.

“We have a complicated life here in Gaza,” said Abu Ramadan, lying on a bed in the intensive care unit of Shifa Hospital in Gaza City. “We don’t know what will happen, what our future will be.”

“How long will this go on?” Mr. Abu Ramadan added.

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