A fragile Egyptian-brokered Gaza truce between Israel and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad to end the five days of fighting between them that went into effect at 10 p.m. on Saturday night, was broken by rocket fire toward Gaza border communities and Ashkelon on Sunday afternoon.
The IDF confirmed that one rocket was fired from Gaza into Israel on Sunday afternoon, falling in an open area. The IDF struck observation posts belonging to Hamas in the northern Gaza Strip shortly after the rocket fire.
A source in the Joint Operations Rooms of the Palestinian Resistance Factions in Gaza told Al-Jazeera that the rocket was launched due to a "technical defect," stressing that "the resistance confirms its commitment to the ceasefire."
Israel had confirmed that the truce went into effect late Saturday night.
National Security Adviser Tzachi Hanegbi thanked Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi on behalf of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and expressed Israel’s appreciation for Egypt’s “vigorous efforts to bring about a ceasefire,” the Prime Minister’s Office said.
Hanegbi clarified that “quiet will be answered with quiet. If Israel is attacked or threatened, it will continue to do everything it needs to do in order to defend itself.”
The Palestinian and Arab media published a five-sentence text from Egypt of the ceasefire announcement, which spoke of an end to targeting civilians and demolishing homes once the truce goes into effect.
The Joint Operations Rooms of the Palestinian Resistance Factions in Gaza also announced an end to the current round of fighting, in a statement it issued late Saturday. The group, which consists of a number of terror groups in Gaza, said the Palestinians entered and exited the battle united and strong as ever. It warned Israel against carrying out additional targeted assassinations, saying that our fingers are on the trigger.
Senior Islamic Jihad official Mohammed al-Hindi, who was summoned to Cairo last week for urgent talks with Egyptian intelligence officials, told the Qatari-owned Al Jazeera television network that his group would abide by the ceasefire as long as Israel does so.
In Ramallah, PLO Secretary-General Hussein al-Sheikh welcomed the “truce agreement” and thanked Egypt for “its great role and great effort.”
US welcomed the truce
The Biden administration also welcomed the ceasefire and thanked Egypt and Qatar for their involvement. “U.S. officials worked closely with regional partners to achieve this resolution to the hostilities to prevent further loss of life and restore calm for both Israelis and Palestinians,” White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said early Sunday morning.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken personally thanked Qatari Foreign Affairs Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani when the two men spoke by telephone on Saturday night to discuss regional matters.
The State Department added that the US “reaffirms our ironclad commitment to Israel’s security” and “will remain engaged with our partners to promote calm in the weeks and months ahead.”
“We also will continue our efforts to improve [the] quality of life for Palestinians and we urge the swift delivery of fuel and other critical supplies into Gaza,” it added.
The Islamic Jihad fired rockets into Israel in the first hour after the truce but then held its fire. On Sunday morning Major General Ghasan Alyan, who heads the Unit for the Coordination of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT) announced the gradual opening of the Erez and Kerem Shalom crossings into Gaza, as well as the opening of the maritime area, all of which had been closed during the fighting.
Egypt has traditionally brokered such truces, which are never considered to be formal ceasefires, but rather a restoration of calm whose success is measured by the absence of Palestinian rockets and IDF aerial attacks. This last restoration of calm came after a violent weekend in which hundreds of rockets were fired by Islamic Jihad.
While most rockets missed their targets or were shot down by the Iron Dome missile defense system, there was a second death in Israeli territory on Saturday, this time a Gaza worker legally in Israel who happened to still be in the country.
The first death was a woman from Rehovot on Thursday night.
With reports that there would be a ceasefire around 10 p.m., there were many rockets fired, including reports of one fired on Rishon Lezion and Holon and the Gush Dan area in general for the first time since Wednesday afternoon. The Jerusalem Post has learned that only one rocket was fired toward Gush Dan, and it was shot down by Iron Dome.
As of early Saturday evening, the IDF had launched on Saturday another 48 airstrikes against Islamic Jihad, bringing the total to 180 since Thursday night and 371 since this past Tuesday morning.
Some of the attacks over the weekend were against senior Islamic Jihad commander Iad al-Hasni, who briefly replaced Khalil Bahitini, the commander of the al-Quds Brigades in northern Gaza who Israel killed this past Tuesday morning, as well as some top Islamic Jihad officials’ command centers.
One of the locations targeted by Israeli fighter jets struck was used by senior Islamic Jihad operative Muhammed Abu al-Ata as his operational headquarters.
However, the IDF said, Abu al-Ata had fled his headquarters and taken up residence inside a Gaza hospital, using the civilian population to keep himself safe.
The operational headquarters of Islamic Jihad operative Khaled Azzam was also targeted in Israeli strikes overnight. According to the IDF, Azzam is a senior operative in the rockets division of Gaza’s Islamic Jihad.
Abu al-Ata is the brother of once top Islamic Jihad terrorist Bahaa Abu al-Ata, who Israel assassinated back in November 2019.
So far, six significant Islamic Jihad leaders have been killed since Tuesday.
A senior IDF official said on Saturday that the IDF had also killed eight rocket or missile crews on their way to firing on Israel since the conflict started. As a result of that success, he said there had been a 50% drop in the quantity of firing mortars from Gaza in recent days. It was unclear what impact this had on the terror group’s overall rocket firing capabilities since many rockets are fired using preset timers.
Also, on Friday, Islamic Jihad rockets struck the Beit Shemesh and West Bank areas for the first time since the operation started Tuesday.
Until those rocket attacks Friday, there was an approximately 13-hour-long absence of Islamic Jihad rockets and reduced IDF airstrikes – the second time this past week when a ceasefire seemed close, but then fell through.
Though Hamas was still mostly staying out of the fray, there were increasing concerns that a drawn out conflict could force the group to join the fight.
Earlier Friday, a home in Sderot suffered a direct rocket hit.
No one was injured in the hit, the Sderot Municipality said, adding that infrastructural damage was caused to the home.
A rocket also landed on the rooftop of an empty home in the Gaza border kibbutz of Nir Am, Sha’ar Hanegev Regional Council said. Damage was caused to the home.
Rockets were also simultaneously launched toward Jerusalem and the West Bank area for the first time in Operation Shield and Arrow, which entered its fourth day on Friday.
A rocket fell near the Gush Etzion settlement of Bat Ayin, according to preliminary reports.
The Gush Etzion Regional Council opened an emergency hotline on Friday for residents in need of assistance or information following the rocket barrage on the area.
“The sirens and rockets have reached us as well. I ask that our residents follow the instructions given by the IDF Home Front Command,” Shlomo Ne’eman, Yesha council chairman, said. “I would also like to show our support for our security forces, the IDF, and encourage the political echelon to continue fighting against the criminal terrorist organizations who have turned Gaza into a hornet’s nest of terror.”
Netanyahu held secularity assessments throughout the weekend, including on Saturday night.
On Friday Netanyahu tweeted that “no country would ever tolerate rocket attacks on its citizens - neither does Israel.” He added, “We have a duty to protect our people against terrorism.”
As of Saturday night, Hamas, which has controlled the Gaza Strip since 2007, had not been actively involved in the fighting. Its absence indicates that the fighting has not widened to include regional players. Earlier Saturday a senior Israeli official called on Hamas to seize control of the situation and end Islamic Jihad’s rocket fire into Israel.
“For years, Hamas stood strong in Gaza and refused to allow other organizations to dictate its policy. This latest round shows that Hamas is weak.” the source said.
It has allowed the Islamic Jihad, which is funded by Iran, to dictate the agenda in Gaza and to drag the Strip into additional rounds of needless fighting, the source explained.
Hamas’s failure to draw a redline in the sand and force the Islamic Jihad to end the shooting will be seen as evidence of a change in the balance of power in the Strip, the source stated.
On Friday, US Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman spoke with Minister for Strategic Affairs Ron Dermer and reiterated the Biden’s administration’s “enduring commitment to Israel’s security,” according to the State Department.
Sherman “strongly condemned the indiscriminate launch of rockets into Israel from Gaza-based terrorist groups, which endangers the welfare of both Israelis and Palestinians,” the State Department explained.
It added that Sherman had “expressed deep regret for Palestinian and Israeli civilian casualties and “stressed the urgency of achieving a ceasefire agreement in order to prevent any further loss of civilian life and restore calm.”
The operation began with the targeted assassinations of three Islamic Jihad senior leaders on Tuesday morning. The Post learned on Thursday that those original officials who were killed were even higher up in the organization than the Islamic Jihad officials killed on Thursday and over the weekend.
The five-day campaign, known as Operation Shield and Arrow, did not involve the mobilization of the reserves in any large numbers to threaten a ground invasion – as the IDF did in 2008-2009, 2014 and 2021.
This latest round of conflict between Israel and Islamic Jihad had its roots in rockets that Israel faced on multiple fronts over the Passover holiday as well as over 100 rockets that the terror group fired at Israel over May 2-3.
Islamic Jihad said it fired the May 2-3 rockets as revenge for one of its top leaders dying from a hunger strike while in Israeli detention.
Although the IDF responded mildly to Islamic Jihad’s rocket attacks back on May 2-3, Netanyahu and Gallant already on May 2 ordered Israel’s security forces to prepare a much more substantial attack for the near future.
As of late Saturday afternoon, Israel had killed six top PIJ leaders and according to the IDF had struck 371 targets in Gaza. The IDF explained that the PIJ had launched over 1234 rockets toward Israel of which 221 fell in Gaza and never reached Israel. Some 373 of those rockets were intercepted by Iron Dome, the IDF stated. There was one Israeli fatality and according to the Palestinians, 34 people were killed in Gaza during the fighting of whom 15 were civilians. Out of those, four were women and six were children.