A ceasefire between Israel and Palestinian militants in Gaza took hold yesterday after two days of fighting triggered by an Israeli strike on an Islamic Jihad commander, with 34 Palestinians killed in exchanges of fire.
Both Palestinian militant group Islamic Jihad and Israel’s military confirmed the ceasefire early yesterday brokered by Egyptian and UN officials -- the usual mediators between Gaza and Israel.
Five rockets were fired at Israel from Gaza after the ceasefire came into effect and air defences intercepted two of them, the army said, but the incident did not appear likely to set off another severe round of fighting.
“#Egypt and the #UN worked hard to prevent the most dangerous escalation in and around #Gaza from leading to #war,” tweeted Nickolay Mladenov, UN envoy for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, who travelled to Cairo for the talks.
“The coming hours and days will be critical. ALL must show maximum restraint and do their part to prevent bloodshed.”
The agreement, which entered into force at 5:30 am (0330 GMT), came after the death toll from Israeli air strikes rose to 34 since Tuesday.
Palestinian officials said eight members of the same family had been killed in an Israeli strike overnight, including five children.
Israel’s military said the man killed in the strike in Deir al Balah in the central Gaza Strip was an Islamic Jihad rocket unit commander. Relatives, neighbours and an Islamic Jihad spokesman disputed that.
“This is a war crime. You are killing innocent children, sleeping at home,” neighbour Adan Abu Abdallah told AFP.
The escalation began early Tuesday with Israel’s targeted killing of a top Islamic Jihad commander, Baha Abu al-Ata, who it accused of being behind rocket fire and other attacks.
Israel’s military said some 450 rockets had been fired at its territory since Tuesday morning. No Israelis were killed. Israeli medics said they had treated some 63 people as of Wednesday night, all with mild injuries and almost half with “stress symptoms.”
The flare-up raised fears of a new all-out conflict between Israel and Palestinian militants in Gaza, who have fought three wars since 2008.
Islamic Jihad is the second-most-powerful militant group in the Gaza Strip after Hamas.