Gaza ceasefire holding after late flurry of attacks

Lorries deliver fuel to Palestinian enclave as fighting that killed at least 44 people subsides after three days

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An Egypt-brokered truce between Israel and Islamic Jihad militants in Gaza appeared to be holding on Monday. This has raised hopes that the recent intense conflict that has left at least 44 Palestinians dead, including 15 children, has ended.

The ceasefire, which officially began at 11.30pm on Sunday, brought to a halt the worst fighting in Gaza since an 11-day war last year devastated the Palestinian coastal territory.

Although a flurry of strikes and rocket attacks took place in the run-up to the truce, with sirens sounding in southern Israel moments before and after the deadline, there were no reports of any major breaches of the truce after it took hold.

Lorries carrying fuel entered Gaza on Monday morning after the Israeli military said border crossings would be reopened for humanitarian aid from 9am. Israel closed the crossings last week over security fears following the arrest of a senior Islamic Jihad member in the occupied West Bank.

Gaza's sole power station shut down on Saturday after running out of fuel, reducing electricity supply to only a few hours a day. This put the operations of hospitals — already overburdened with casualties — at risk.

But, as fuel deliveries resumed, the plant "started working to generate electricity", distributor spokesman Mohammed Thabet told AFP. Many health facilities in the enclave are dependent on diesel generators for power.

Across the border, Israel reopened access to areas near Gaza that had been closed off since last week, and lifted restrictions on gatherings and most daily activities.

While both sides agreed to the truce, each issued a warning that it would respond with force to any breach.

US President Joe Biden welcomed the ceasefire and thanked Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El Sisi for his country's role in brokering it.

Mr Biden also called for investigations into civilian casualties, which he called a “tragedy”.

UN Middle East peace envoy Tor Wennesland said the situation was “still very fragile”, and urged all parties to abide by the ceasefire.

Israel began a heavy aerial and artillery bombardment of Gaza on Friday in what it called a “pre-emptive strike”, with Islamic Jihad firing hundreds of rockets across the border in retaliation.

Buildings in Gaza were reduced to rubble, while Israelis were forced to seek shelter amid the barrage of rocket fire.

In addition to the 44 people killed, 15 of them children, the Gaza health ministry said 360 people had been wounded in the Palestinian enclave, which is run by militant group Hamas.

The Israeli military released a higher death toll, saying 51 people had been killed in Gaza including 24 militants. It said 16 of the 27 civilian deaths were caused by stray militant rockets.

Muhammad Abu Salmiya, director general of Shifa hospital in Gaza city, said medics were treating wounded people in a “very bad condition”.

Three people in Israel were wounded by shrapnel while 31 others were slightly wounded, emergency services said.

On Sunday, Israeli Prime Minister Yair Lapid's office thanked Egypt for its mediation, but said his country maintained “the right to respond strongly” if the ceasefire agreement was breached.

Islamic Jihad member Mohammad Al Hindi, who confirmed that the militant group had accepted the truce, said that it too reserved “the right to respond” to any aggression.

Islamic Jihad said the ceasefire deal contained “Egypt's commitment to work towards the release of two prisoners”.

The pair were named as Bassem Al Saadi, a senior figure in the group's political wing who was arrested by Israel in West Bank on Monday, and Khalil Awawdeh, a militant also in Israeli detention.

The Israeli army said the entire senior leadership of the military wing of the Islamic Jihad in Gaza had been “neutralised” in its strikes.

The militant group confirmed the deaths of senior commanders Tayseer Al Jabari in Gaza city and Khaled Mansour in Rafah, in the south.

Islamic Jihad is aligned with Hamas but often acts independently. Hamas has fought four wars with Israel since seizing control of Gaza in 2007, including the conflict in May last year.

Gaza resident, Nour Abu Sultan, said she had been waiting anxiously for a ceasefire.

“We haven't slept for days [due to] heat and shelling and rockets; the sound of aircraft hovering above us … is terrifying,” she told AFP.

Dalia Harel, a resident of the Israeli town of Sderot, which is close to the Gaza border, said she was “disappointed” at news of a truce despite her five children being “traumatised”.

“We're tired of having a military operation every year,” she said. “We need our military and political leaders to get it over with once and for all … we are not for war, but we can't go on like this.”

Ceasefire fears

Observers of the conflict welcomed the ceasefire but were keen to emphasise the need for a long-term resolution. UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres said on Sunday he hoped all sides would stick to the truce.

On Monday, Jordanian Foreign Minister Ayman Al Safadi warned of a repetition of the conflict in the absence of peace talks.

"We welcome the truce," Mr Al Safadi told reporters after meeting Yemeni Foreign Minister Ahmed Awad bin Mubarak in Amman.

He said Israel's "aggression" reflected "an unsustainable situation" and that "immediate return to effective and serious negotiations to achieve peace" must be the goal of all those involved in the conflict.

"Every year, month we find ourselves confronting a new explosion on the ground because of an absence of a fundamental solution, which is the two-state solution," Mr Al Safadi said.

"We warn against the absence of a political horizon. What we call for is stopping all unilateral steps that undermine the two-state solution."

Talks between the Palestinian Authority, an arch rival of the militants groups that rule Gaza, and Israel were halted eight years ago as the right-wing Israeli parties extended their grip on the country's politics.

With reporting from AFP

Updated: August 09, 2022, 6:49 AM
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