Israel and the Palestinian militant group, Islamic Jihad, have eventually agreed to a truce brokered by Egypt. For now, the ceasefire has halted the worst bout of fighting in months. Having killed as many as eight members of a Palestinian family, including five children, Israel’s assurance that ‘quiet will be answered with quiet’ cannot readily inspire optimism, however.
The truce is tentative at best and belated at worst. An Islamic Jihad spokesman, Musab Al-Braim, announced the agreement. It came roughly 48 hours after Israel sparked the fighting when it assassinated the faction’s top Gaza commander and his wife in an airstrike. Israel’s army had accused Baha Abu al-Ata of multiple recent attacks, calling him a “ticking bomb”.
A total of 34 Palestinians, almost half of them civilians, were killed as Israel bombarded Gaza for two days. Simultaneously and no less frightfully, about 400 rockets were launched by militants into Israel, causing panic as civilians fled in search of bomb shelters. The renewed conflict has assumed awesome proportions over the past 48 hours. Israel’s military claimed that its Iron Dome defence system, which intercepts incoming projectiles, had a 90 per cent success rate in downing rockets heading for residential areas.
There were no Israeli deaths, although three people were wounded by shrapnel or debris. The death toll in Gaza has risen to 24 as Israel confronted militant rocket fire. While Tel-Aviv rarely acknowledges that it strikes deals with organisations it deems terrorist, Israel said it would observe a quid pro quo truce. The signatories have made the agreement still more critical. Yet the region has historically been in ferment.
And the world must keep its fingers crossed in the face of what could turn out to be a fragile truce in an embattled land. Israel and militants in Gaza have frequently clashed during the past two years, with Israeli jets and helicopters bombing the strip while Palestinian fighters have launched projectiles on nearby Israeli towns and cities.
Normally the flare-ups die down after a day or two. However, this week’s fighting was rather unusual not the least because Hamas, the dominant faction that governs Gaza and has fought three wars with Israel, remained out of the gunfire. Israel normally holds Hamas accountable for any attacks originating out of Gaza, but the two sides agreed to a long-term ceasefire earlier this year. That deal appeared to be holding and Israel said this week that it has been targeting Islamic Jihad, Gaza’s second- largest militant faction. There can be no enduring peace in the time of war. Yet the world must acknowledge Thursday’s forward movement in the Middle East. Give peace a chance.