Israel-Gaza Border Calms as Egyptian-Mediated Ceasefire Goes Into Effect
Palestinian terror groups and the Israeli military held their fire late on Tuesday following an Egyptian mediation effort, bringing a relative calm to the Gaza frontier after the fiercest rocket salvos and air strikes since Operation Protective Edge in the summer of 2014.
Both sides made clear the pause was an armed stand-off rather than a long-term accommodation.
Fighting died down at 5 p.m. local time and a Palestinian official briefed on the negotiations said Gaza factions ceased firing as part of a deal proposed by Egypt. Israeli officials confirmed Cairo had been involved in Tuesday’s arrangement.
Since Monday, Israeli air strikes had killed seven Palestinians, at least five of them gunmen, and destroyed several buildings used by Gaza’s ruling Hamas Islamists.
Rocket attacks from Gaza sent residents of southern Israel to shelters, wounding dozens and killing a Palestinian laborer from the West Bank.
The joint command of the Palestinian armed factions in Gaza said in a statement on Tuesday they would abide by a ceasefire “as long as the Zionist enemy does the same.”
Hamas, which has ruled the coastal enclave since 2007, claimed victory. Spokesman Abdel-Latif Al-Qanoua said the group had “taught the enemy a harsh lesson and made it pay for its crimes.”
Israeli minister Yuval Steinitz said after a cabinet debate lasting several hours that he knew of no formal truce.
Rather, he told Ynet TV, Israel had “landed a harsh and unprecedented blow on Hamas and the terrorist groups in Gaza, and we will see if that will suffice or whether further blows will be required”.
While many Palestinians celebrated in the streets, in Israel the response was mixed. Dozens of residents of bombarded southern villages blocked an Israeli traffic junction and burned tires in protest at what they deemed a government capitulation.
Hamas and other armed factions had fired more than 400 rockets or mortar bombs across the border after carrying out a guided-missile attack on Monday on a bus that wounded an Israeli soldier, the military said.
Hamas said it was retaliating for a Israeli commando mission in Gaza on Sunday that erupted into gunfight when uncovered by its fighters. A Hamas commander, six other gunmen and an Israeli colonel were killed in that incident.
Israel said its Iron Dome anti-rocket system intercepted more than 100 projectiles from Gaza on Monday and Tuesday.
Responding with dozens of air strikes, Israel hit buildings that included a Hamas intelligence compound and the studios of Hamas’s Al-Aqsa TV.
The Israeli military said its air attacks took out a rocket-launching squad and fired at several Palestinians infiltrating through the border fence around Gaza.
Violence has simmered since Palestinians launched weekly border demonstrations on March 30, some of which have turned violent. More than 220 Palestinian rioters have been killed during the protests, which have included border incursions.
Alarmed at the bloodshed, Egypt, the United Nations and Qatar have sought ways to improve conditions in the enclave.
Israel withdrew settlers and soldiers from Gaza in 2005 but, along with Egypt, maintains tight control of its land, air and sea borders. The wider Israeli-Palestinian peace process has been stalled for several years.