Israel and the Palestinians appear headed for a ceasefire in Gaza

GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip –

Israel and Palestinian militants in the Gaza Strip appeared to be heading toward a ceasefire on Sunday night after Egyptian officials said both sides had agreed to a truce to end a three-day flare-up of violence that has killed dozens. Palestinians.

The ceasefire would end the worst fighting in Gaza since the 11-day war between Israel and Hamas last year. Since Friday night, the violence has killed 43 Palestinians, including 15 children and four women.

Egyptian authorities said the truce was scheduled to start at 11:30 pm (20:30 GMT; 4:30 pm EDT). An Egyptian intelligence official said both sides had agreed to the truce. He spoke on condition of anonymity due to the sensitive nature of the ceasefire talks.

Since Friday, Israeli planes have struck targets in Gaza, 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 afternoon, 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 on Sunday night 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 a day. 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 has said it took action against the militant group due to concrete threats of an imminent attack, but has not provided 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 necessary,” Lapid said.

Israel estimates that its airstrikes have killed around 15 militants.

Islamic Jihad has fewer fighters and sympathizers than Hamas, and little is known about its arsenal of weapons. 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.

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