After three days of intense conflict, the state of Israel and Palestinian militants on Sunday agreed to a truce in Gaza, brokered by Cairo. It is expected to be a happy prologue to the observance of Muharram on Tuesday, indeed an irony in the historically embattled Middle East. Israel and the Palestinians have said that they have agreed to the ceasefire to end three days of conflict.
Israel has accepted the Egyptian plan for a ceasefire by claiming that it had achieved most of its military objectives during the three-day conflict, which began on Friday afternoon.
The Times of Israel quoted a senior Middle East diplomat as saying that the agreed ceasefire was due to take effect at 11.30 p.m. (local time). Officials from the Islamic Jihad and Gaza’s ruling Hamas group have suggested that the truce would go into effect on Sunday evening.
“We appreciate the Egyptian efforts that had been exerted to end the Israeli aggression against our people,” the Islamic Jihad spokesman, Tareeq Selmi, was quoted as saying. Israel launched its operation with a strike last Friday on a senior commander of the Islamic Jihad.
Yet another senior commander of the militant group was killed overnight in the midst of continuing fighting between Israelis and Palestinians. It is a measure of the ferocity of the conflict that no fewer than 30 Palestinians have been killed since last Friday.
Palestinian militants fired rockets towards Jerusalem on Sunday even as Israel continued its attacks. Israel said it launched its military operation on Friday to eliminate what it called a “concrete threat” against its citizens. The flare-up, recalling preludes to previous Gaza wars, has worried world powers.
However, it has been relatively contained as Hamas, the governing Islamist group in the Gaza Strip and a more powerful force than the Iranian-backed Islamic Jihad, has thus far stayed out. Palestinian rockets have paralysed much of southern Israel and sent residents of Tel-Aviv and Askelon to shelters.
On Sunday morning, Islamic Jihad had extended its range of fire towards Jerusalem in what it described as retaliation for the overnight killing of the southern Gaza commander by Israel ~ the second such senior officer it has lost in the fighting. “The blood of the martyrs will not be wasted,” the Islamic Jihad said in a statement.
The incident happened as Jews are on fast in a religious commemoration of two Jewish temples that were destroyed “in antiquity”. Israel said its Iron Dome interceptor, whose success rate the army has put at 97 per cent, shot down the rockets just west of the city.
Palestinians, generally dazed by another surge of bloodshed, on Sunday picked through the ruins of homes to salvage furniture and documents. Considering the narrative of the Middle East, Sunday’s truce in Gaza can at best halt the offensive for a while. The thorniest of issues cries out for a permanent settlement.