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Israeli-Palestinian flare-up ends with Gaza truce

The exchange of hostilities that broke out on Friday/Saturday night between Israel and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) militant wound down with a declaration of truce on Sunday – a step that could bring an end to the most serious escalation on the Gaza frontier in more than a year.

The mutual aggression began with Israeli forces hitting Palestinian targets over the weekend, which triggered a response from the Islamic Jihad, which fired rockets into Israeli southern cities, some of which, unintentionally, also fell on Gaza territory. The flurry of rockets prompted residents in Tel Aviv, Jerusalem and Ashkelon to dash for shelters.

On Friday, Israel launched what it dubbed pre-emptive strikes against what it anticipated would be an Islamic Jihad attack meant to avenge the arrest of a leader of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad, Bassam al-Saadi, in the occupied West Bank. Israel called its military move Operation Breaking Dawn.

The Iron Dome, Israel’s anti-missile defence system, took down many of the PIJ rockets while others missed their targets or caused little human harm.

The Egypt-brokered truce brought a respite in the hostilities. Both the Islamic Jihad and Israel thanked Cairo for the mediation.

As written in the truce seen by Al-Jazeera, the main provision is a complete and reciprocal ceasefire from 23:30 local time on Sunday.

Al-Jazeera went on to write that Egypt was making efforts to bring about the release of Islamic Jihad leaders Khalil Al-Awawda and Sheikh Bassam Al-Saadi along with their transfer for treatment.

Mr Al-Awawda has been on a hunger strike to protest his detention by Israel without any charges. Meanwhile, the detention of Mr Al-Saadi, the terror group’s West Bank leader, by Israeli forces on August 2 is believed to have been the spark that ignited the recent round of hostilities between Gaza and Israel.

Israel reckoned with the possibility that the arrest of Al-Saadi in Jenin would increase tensions but allegedly did not anticipate such a serious escalation in response, officials cited by the Times of Israel said, who went on to stress that Israel embarked on the three-day operation “not by our choice.”

The officials said that Islamic Jihad terrorists, in particular the two regional commanders eliminated during Operation Breaking Dawn in Gaza, were preparing to step up their operations against Israel.

But as The Times of Israel reported, Israel has no intentions to release the prisoners early as demanded by PIJ following the ceasefire in Gaza last night.

Internal Security Minister Omer Barlev said that the ceasefire deal did not include an agreement to release the high-profile PIJ members currently in Israeli custody.

“Israel did not agree to anything, we responded negatively to the demands,” Mr Barlev told the Kan public broadcaster, adding that “Al-Saadi is like any prisoner, and the administrative detainee [al-Awawda], like any other administrative detainee. Toward the end of the detention period, the Shin Bet will assess the situation and decide whether to release him. Most of the time the Shin Bet extends [detention].”

On a visit to Tehran for a meeting with the commander of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, Ziad Nakhaleh, the leader of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad terror group, said that its members dealt with Israel’s “aggression” with “steadfastness,” adding that he “salutes the Palestinian nation.”

He went on to issue a warning that “if the enemy doesn’t stick to what we agreed upon via the Egyptian mediator, we will resume fighting.”

Palestinian Authority President and chairman of Palestinian nationalist social democratic political party “Fatah” Mahmoud Abbas praised the ceasefire reached between Israel and the PIJ.

Hamas stayed out of the fighting

Hamas, the main rival of PIJ in who is to deal the cards in Palestine, is reportedly not taking part in the fighting. Senior Israeli officials said they had understood from the outset that this would be the case.

The Hamas movement played a role in bringing the hostilities to an end by staying in touch with Egypt – the main mediator – throughout Operation Breaking Dawn and pressed on Palestinian Islamic Jihad to consent to a ceasefire, senior Israeli officials said on Monday morning.

We knew throughout that Hamas wanted to stay out” of the conflict, the officials say.

However, the Israeli officials said that Hamas failed in its responsibility to prevent the conflict, which it should have ensured by pressuring PIJ before it launched rockets. “That is an expectation we have of someone who presumes to rule the Strip and its population,” the officials said, adding that Hamas stayed out of the fight because of Israel’s military and civil policies over the past year. “That includes Operation Guardian of the Walls and the important economic incentives for the population.”

Senior Israeli officials, cited by the Times of Israel, went on to say that there was an opening for further agreements with Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad in the wake of the ceasefire to end fighting in Gaza.

“They are absolutely aware that there is an opportunity in the aftermath that we don’t want to miss,” an official said, pointing at the ongoing attempts to arrange for the return of Israeli civilian captives and bodies of IDF soldiers held by Hamas, among other opportunities.

“The signals from Hamas in recent weeks have been received,” an official says.

“We want to take things forward, and not make do only with a ceasefire with PIJ,” another official said.

Egypt receives praise for its mediation

Officials from both sides were especially pleased with Egypt’s mediatory role. “Egyptian mediation was very intensive. Our relationship with them is extremely close,” Israeli officials said.

The Head of the National Public Diplomacy Directorate can confirm that a ceasefire will take effect tonight at 23:30.

The State of Israel thanks Egypt for its efforts.

— Prime Minister of Israel (@IsraeliPM) August 7, 2022

“I commend Egypt for its crucial role in establishing the ceasefire and for the strong support from Qatar, US & others,” UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process Tor Wennesland said, while welcoming the ceasefire between Israel and the Gaza-based PIJ militant group.

We welcome the Egyptian efforts that led to the halting of the occupation’s aggression in Gaza,” Palestinian Authority President Abbas said.

Senior Israeli officials also stressed how successful the ongoing contacts with Qatar, the United States and other countries during the fighting in Gaza were.

“They knew all the elements of our decision-making beforehand and also our efforts to avoid acting, and to ensure [the conflict] was as limited as possible,” one of the officials said, adding that “the Qataris have an important role here as a player that creates economic stability.”

The tally and PIJ rockets falling on Gaza territory

An Israel Defense Forces (IDF) spokesperson estimated that the number of casualties amounted to 51 people, all of which died in Gaza. A total of 24 of them were Palestinian Islamic Jihad members.

The IDF said it had carried out strikes on some 170 targets linked to Palestinian Islamic Jihad, including senior officials and activists of the terror group.

According to the Israeli military, 16 people uninvolved in the hostilities were killed by Gazan rockets which fell short.

Additional 11 people unaffiliated with terror groups were killed, meaning that a total of 27 Gazan civilians — including a number of children — were killed in the fighting.

Meanwhile, Gaza officials said 44 Palestinians, almost half of them civilians and including children, were killed.

The Iron Dome, Israel’s anti-missile defence system, took down many of the PIJ rockets while others missed their targets or caused little human harm. Israel claimed the Iron Dome intercepted 97 percent of Gaza rockets.

The Israeli military also said approximately 1,100 rockets were fired toward Israel by terrorists in the Gaza Strip with about 200 rockets falling short of their targets and landing in the Gaza Strip.

There were no immediate reports of casualties among Israeli citizens. Barzilai Medical Center in Ashkelon said it provided medical treatment to 60 people with 21 hospitalised due to induced anxiety and 39 because of suffering light wounds.

The hospital added that 53 of those injured have since been released from the hospital.

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