GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip (AP) — A ceasefire between Israel and Palestinian militants went into effect Sunday night in a bid to end nearly three days of violence that has killed dozens of Palestinians and disrupted the lives of hundreds of thousands of Israelis.
The outbreak was the worst fight between Israel and militant groups in Gaza since Israel and Hamas fought an 11-day war last year, and adds to the destruction and misery that has plagued for years in Gaza.
The Egyptian-brokered ceasefire came into effect at 11:30 p.m. (8:30 p.m. GMT; 4:30 p.m. EDT). Strikes and rockets by Israeli militants continued in the minutes before the truce began, and Israel said it would “respond strongly” if the ceasefire was broken.
Israeli warplanes have been shooting down targets in Gaza since Friday, while the Iran-backed Palestinian Jihad militant group has fired hundreds of rockets into Israel in response. The risk of cross-border fighting turning into full-fledged war remains as long as no truce is reached. Israel says some of the dead were killed by misfired rockets.
Gaza’s ruling Hamas group has remained on the sidelines, perhaps because it fears Israeli retaliation and the rollback of economic deals with Israel, including Israeli work permits for thousands of Gaza residents. which reinforce his control.
Israel launched its operation with a strike Friday on an Islamic Jihad leader, and followed up Saturday with another targeted strike on a second prominent leader.
Islamic Jihad’s second commander, Khaled Mansour, was killed Saturday night in an airstrike on an apartment building in the Rafah refugee camp in southern Gaza, which also killed two other militants and five civilians.
READ MORE: Israeli airstrike kills senior Islamic Jihad commander in Gaza refugee camp
Mansour, the Islamic Jihad commander for southern Gaza, was in the apartment of a member of the group when the missile struck, flattening the three-story building and severely damaging nearby homes.
“Suddenly, without warning, the house next to us was bombed and everything went black and dusty with smoke in the blink of an eye,” said Wissam Jouda, who lives next to the targeted building.
Ahmed al-Qaissi, another neighbor, said his wife and son were among the injured, injured by shrapnel. To make room for rescue workers, al-Qaissi agreed to have part of his house demolished.
As Mansour’s funeral began in the Gaza Strip on Sunday, the Israeli military said it was hitting “suspected Islamic Jihad rocket launching posts”. Smoke could be seen from the strikes as the blasts from their explosions rocked Gaza. Israeli airstrikes and rocket fire followed for hours as sirens wailed in central Israel. As the sunset call to prayer sounded in Gaza, sirens wailed as far north as Tel Aviv.
Israel says some of the deaths in 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 projectile hit a house in the same neighborhood of Jebaliya, killing two men. The Palestinians held Israel responsible, while Israel said it was investigating whether the area had been hit by an errant rocket.
Israel’s Defense Ministry said mortars fired from Gaza hit the Erez border crossing into Israel, used daily by thousands of Gazans. The mortars damaged the roof and shrapnel hit the hall entrance, the ministry said. The crossing point was closed amid the fighting.
The Rafah strike was the deadliest to date in the ongoing series of fighting, which was sparked by Israel on Friday with the targeted killing of the Islamic Jihad commander for northern Gaza.
Israel said it took action against the militant group due to concrete threats of an imminent attack, but did not provide details. Acting Prime Minister Yair Lapid, who is an experienced diplomat but has no experience overseeing a war, launched the offensive less than three months before a general election in which he is campaigning to keep his job.
In a statement on Sunday, Lapid said the military would continue to strike targets in Gaza “in a precise and responsible manner to minimize harm to noncombatants.” Lapid said the strike that killed Mansour was “an extraordinary achievement”.
“The operation will continue for as long as necessary,” Lapid said.
The UN Security Council has scheduled an emergency meeting on Monday over 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 around 15 militants.
Islamic Jihad has fewer fighters and supporters than Hamas, and little is known about its arsenal. Both groups call for the destruction of Israel, but have different priorities, with Hamas constrained by government demands.
The Israeli military said militants in Gaza fired around 580 rockets into Israel. The army said its air defenses intercepted many of them, and two of those shot down were fired towards Jerusalem. Islamic Jihad has fewer fighters and supporters than Hamas.
Air raid sirens sounded in the Jerusalem area for the first time on Sunday since last year’s Israel-Hamas war.
Jerusalem is usually a hot spot during times of cross-border fighting between Israel and Gaza. On Sunday, hundreds of Jews, including inflammatory 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 extremists 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 in the West Bank, Israeli security forces said they arrested 19 people suspected of belonging to Islamic Jihad in night raids.
On Sunday, Hamas still seemed to stay out of the fight. The group is strongly urged to avoid another war. Last year’s Israel-Hamas war, one of four major conflicts and several small battles in the past 15 years, took a heavy toll on the impoverished territory’s 2.3 million Palestinian residents.
Since the last war, Israel and Hamas have reached tacit agreements based on the exchange of calm for work permits and a slight relaxation of the border blockade imposed by Israel and Egypt when Hamas invaded the territory there. at 15. Israel has issued 12,000 work permits to workers in Gaza and plans to grant another 2,000 permits.
Gaza’s only power station shut down at noon on Saturday due to a lack of fuel. Israel has kept its crossings into Gaza closed since Tuesday. With the new disruption, Gazans can only use four hours of electricity a day, increasing their reliance on private generators and worsening the territory’s chronic power crisis amid peak summer heat.
Goldenberg reported from Tel Aviv, Israel. Associated Press writer Edith M. Lederer in New York contributed.