By Adel Zaanoun / AFP
GAZA CITY: Israel and Islamic Jihad in Gaza agreed on Tuesday to an Egyptian-brokered truce deal after four days of violence in which 25 Gazans died and 200 rockets were fired at Israel.
Under the agreement, which came into force at 1:00 am (2300 GMT on Monday), both Israel and militants from Islamic Jihad, who were responsible for the lion’s share of the rocket attacks, agreed to hold their fire.
More than 15 hours later, the nascent truce appeared to be largely holding, although Israeli police said eight rockets and mortar shells had landed, without causing injury or damage.
And the skies over Gaza remained calm.
Israeli officials and Islamic Jihad both confirmed that a deal was in place.
“This morning the situation is relatively quiet, it may be that we find ourselves at the end of this round,” Defense Minister Ehud Barak told reporters during a visit to an army headquarters in southern Israel.
“There is an understanding, and we are following what’s going on in the field,” Home Front Defense Minister Matan Vilnai told Israeli public radio.
“Apparently things are calming down and this round of confrontations appears to be behind us.”
In Gaza, an Islamic Jihad spokesman said the radical group was willing to respect the deal if Israel would end its targeted killings of militants.
“We accept a ceasefire if Israel agrees to apply it by ending its aggressions and assassinations,” Daud Shihab told AFP.
But both sides were quick to warn that the agreement would be short lived if the other side stepped out of line.
“Any Israeli violation requires a strong response by all factions,” said Fawzi Barhum, a spokesman for Gaza’s Hamas rulers, who have been seeking Cairo’s help to restore calm.
The truce, he said, “was not meant to tie the hands of the resistance and its right to respond forcefully to the killings and attacks.”
Israel’s top military officer took the same stance.
“If the terrorists maintain the calm, we will do the same; if they fire, we will hit them. Everything depends on them,” Chief of Staff Lieutenant General Benny Gantz told the radio.
News of the agreement emerged early on Tuesday after Egypt brokered what the Egyptian intelligence official said was a “comprehensive and mutual” truce.
“An agreement on ending the current operations between the two sides, including a halt to assassinations, entered into force at 1:00 am,” the Egyptian official told AFP.
He said the deal was reached after the Egyptians held “intensive contacts” with both sides.
But Vilnai denied Israel had agreed to halt the assassinations.
“Anyone who is involved in terrorism against Israel needs to know that they are in our sights,” he warned.
Egypt has been involved in brokering numerous truce agreements between Israel and Gaza militant groups, but a Hamas MP on Monday accused Cairo of using Gaza’s ongoing fuel crisis to put pressure on the Islamist movement to enforce a ceasefire on the ground.
“Egyptian intelligence officials offered to provide the government with the fuel needed to operate the power plant, to resume transportation and the operation of factories, in exchange for a truce on the ground in Gaza,” Yunes Al-Astal said in a statement sent to AFP.
Gaza has just one power plant, which shut down three times in the past two months due to fuel shortages, although Egypt has agreed to provide enough fuel to allow it to operate.
There was no immediate comment on his remarks from Hamas, whose armed wing has not been firing rockets at Israel.
The ceasefire came into force after four days of violence that began on Friday with Israel’s assassination of the head of the Popular Resistance Committees, a militant group.
The strike prompted militants to fire hundreds of rockets and mortar rounds into southern Israel, wounding five people and prompting authorities to shut down schools within firing range of Gaza.
The Israeli military carried out dozens of air strikes during the flare-up, saying it was targeting militants and weapons facilities.
Palestinian medics put the total death toll late on Monday at 25, with more than 80 injured.
Of those killed, 19 were militants —14 from Islamic Jihad, and five from the Popular Resistance Committees — and six were civilians, among them two minors.