Ceasefire between Palestinians and Israel goes into effect in Gaza

GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip –

A ceasefire between Israel and Palestinian militants went into effect on Sunday night in a bid to end nearly three days of violence that has killed dozens of Palestinians and upended the lives of hundreds of thousands of Israelis.

The outbreak was the worst clash between Israeli and Gaza militant groups since Israel and Hamas waged an 11-day war last year, adding to the destruction and misery that have plagued blockaded Gaza for years.

The Egyptian-brokered ceasefire took effect at 11:30 p.m. (8:30 p.m. GMT; 4:30 p.m. EDT). Israeli attacks and militant rocket fire continued in the minutes before the truce began, with Israel saying it would “respond forcefully” if the ceasefire was violated.

Israeli planes have struck targets in Gaza since Friday, while the Iranian-backed Palestinian Jihad militant group has fired hundreds of rockets at Israel in response. The risk of cross-border fighting escalating into a full-fledged war remained until the truce was reached. Israel says some of the dead were killed by misfired rockets.

Gaza’s ruling group, Hamas, has remained on the sidelines, possibly because it fears Israeli retaliation and the failure of economic deals with Israel, including Israeli work permits for thousands of Gaza residents, that tighten its control.

Israel launched its operation with an attack on an Islamic Jihad leader on Friday, and followed it up on Saturday with another attack targeting a second prominent leader.

Islamic Jihad’s deputy commander, Khaled Mansour, was killed in an airstrike on an apartment building in southern Gaza’s Rafah refugee camp on Saturday night, which also killed two other militants and five civilians.

Mansour, the Islamic Jihad commander for southern Gaza, was in the apartment of a member of the group when the missile landed, bringing down the three-story building and severely damaging nearby homes.

“Suddenly, without warning, the house next door was bombed and everything turned black and dusty with smoke in the blink of an eye,” said Wissam Jouda, who lives next door to the targeted building.

Ahmed al-Qaissi, another neighbor, said his wife and son were among those injured, with shrapnel wounds. To make way for rescuers, al-Qaissi agreed to demolish part of his house.

As Mansour’s funeral began in the Gaza Strip on Sunday, the Israeli army said it was targeting suspected “Islamic Jihad rocket launch sites.” Smoke from the strikes could be seen as the blows from their explosions rocked Gaza. Israeli airstrikes and rocket fire continued for hours as sirens sounded in central Israel. When the call to evening prayer sounded in Gaza, sirens wailed as far north as Tel Aviv.

Israel says some of the deaths during this round were caused by errant rocket fire, including an incident in the Jebaliya refugee camp in northern Gaza in which six Palestinians were killed on Saturday. On Sunday, a shell hit a house in the same area of ​​Jebaliya, killing two men. The Palestinians blamed Israel, while Israel said it was investigating whether the area was hit by an errant rocket.

Israel’s Defense Ministry said mortars fired from Gaza hit the Erez border crossing into Israel, used by thousands of Gazans daily. Mortars damaged the ceiling and shrapnel hit the entrance to the room, the ministry said. The crossing has been closed amid the fighting.

The Rafah attack was the deadliest so far in the current round of fighting, which was sparked by Israel on Friday with the targeted assassination of the Islamic Jihad commander in northern Gaza.

Israel said it took action against the militant group due to concrete threats of an imminent attack, but did not provide details. Caretaker Prime Minister Yair Lapid, who is a seasoned diplomat but inexperienced in overseeing a war, launched the offensive less than three months before the general election in which he is campaigning to retain office.

In a statement on Sunday, Lapid said the army would continue to strike targets in Gaza “in a precise and responsible manner to minimize harm to non-combatants.” Lapid called the attack that killed Mansour “an extraordinary achievement.”

“The operation will continue as long as it takes,” Lapid said.

The UN Security Council has scheduled an emergency meeting for Monday on the violence. China, which holds the council’s presidency this month, scheduled the session in response to a request from the United Arab Emirates, which represents Arab nations on the council, as well as China, France, Ireland and Norway.

Israel estimates that its airstrikes killed about 15 militants.

Islamic Jihad has fewer fighters and sympathizers than Hamas, and little is known about its arsenal. Both groups call for the destruction of Israel, but have different priorities, with Hamas limited by the government’s demands.

The Israeli army said militants in Gaza fired around 580 rockets at Israel. The army said its air defenses had intercepted many of them, and two of those shot down were fired towards Jerusalem. Islamic Jihad has fewer fighters and sympathizers than Hamas.

Air raid sirens sounded in the Jerusalem area for the first time on Sunday since last year’s war between Israel and Hamas.

Jerusalem is often a flashpoint during periods of cross-border fighting between Israel and Gaza. On Sunday, hundreds of Jews, including ultra-nationalist lawmaker Itamar Ben Gvir, visited a sensitive holy site in Jerusalem, known to Jews as the Temple Mount and to Muslims as the Noble Sanctuary. The visit, under heavy police protection, ended without incident, police said.

Such demonstrative visits by Israeli hardliners seeking to underscore Israeli claims of sovereignty over disputed Jerusalem have sparked violence in the past. The holy site sits on the fault line of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and is central to the rival narratives of Palestinians and Israeli Jews.

In Palestinian towns and villages in the West Bank, Israeli security forces said they detained 19 people suspected of belonging to Islamic Jihad during night raids.

By Sunday, Hamas still seemed to be staying out of the battle. The group has a strong incentive to avoid another war. Last year’s war between Israel and Hamas, one of four major conflicts and several minor battles in the last 15 years, took a staggering toll on the 2.3 million Palestinian residents of the impoverished territory.

Since the last war, Israel and Hamas have struck tacit deals based on trading calm for work permits and a slight relaxation of the border blockade imposed by Israel and Egypt when Hamas invaded the territory 15 years ago. Israel has issued 12,000 work permits to Gazan workers and has offered the possibility of another 2,000 permits.

The only power plant in Gaza was stopped at noon on Saturday due to lack of fuel. Israel has kept its crossing points into Gaza closed since Tuesday. With the new outage, Gazans can use just four hours of electricity a day, increasing their reliance on private generators and deepening the territory’s chronic energy crisis amid peak summer heat.

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Goldenberg reported from Tel Aviv, Israel. Associated Press writer Edith M. Lederer in New York contributed.

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