Israel and Palestinian Islamic Jihad officials in the Gaza Strip said on Saturday night that they had reached an agreement to end the worst bout of cross-border fighting since 2021.
Mohammed al-Hindi, a senior member of Islamic Jihad’s leadership, told the Al Kahera Wal Nas channel that the deal, brokered by Egyptian officials, would take effect at 22.00 local time on Saturday, raising the prospect of an end to the five-day flare-up.
But in the minutes after the deadline, sirens warning of incoming missiles went off in areas around the Gaza Strip, and Israel subsequently said its aircraft had struck two concealed rocket launchers in Gaza, leaving the deal’s durability in question.
Tzachi Hanegbi, head of Israel’s national security council, said that Israel’s acceptance of the truce meant that ‘quiet will be met with quiet’, and that if Israel were attacked or threatened, “it will continue to do everything that it needs to in order to defend itself”.
Egyptian officials have been trying to negotiate a ceasefire since Wednesday, but previous rounds of talks faltered after Israel rejected a demand from Islamic Jihad that it stop targeted killings of its leadership.
The cross-border exchange has been the heaviest since Israel and Hamas, the larger militant group that controls Gaza, fought an 11-day war in 2021. The Israeli military said on Saturday that since the confrontation began it had bombed 371 sites in the blockaded coastal enclave, while militants had fired 1,234 rockets and mortars at Israel.
The fighting caps a year of mounting Israeli-Palestinian tensions, with Israeli forces conducting near-nightly raids in the occupied West Bank in the wake of attacks by Palestinians on Israelis, and Israel and militants in Gaza periodically exchanging rocket fire.
The latest round of violence erupted on Tuesday when Israel killed 15 people, including eight women and children, in air strikes targeting three senior members of Islamic Jihad that it said had been involved in rocket fire from the strip a week earlier.
In the days since, a total of 33 people, including 9 women and children, have been killed in the Gaza Strip, according to the local health ministry, and 147 people have been injured. Israel said it had killed at least six senior Islamic Jihad officials.
In Israel, two people have been killed by rocket fire, including a Palestinian with a permit to work in Israel, and a woman who died when a rocket hit an apartment block in the city of Rehovot. A further five people were wounded in the strike in Rehovot, according to Israeli paramedics.
The rocket salvos have forced people across the south of Israel into bomb shelters, as well as setting off warning sirens in the commercial hub of Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, which militants targeted in a rare move on Friday.
The fighting has also aggravated the dire humanitarian conditions in Gaza, a 365 sq km enclave home to more than 2mn Palestinians whose economy has been devastated by a 16-year blockade by Israel and Egypt.
OCHA, the UN’s humanitarian affairs agency, warned on Friday that 417 people in the strip had been internally displaced during the fighting, mainly owing to the destruction of their homes.
It added that the power outages that plague the enclave had also worsened, reducing the electricity supply to fewer than 12 hours a day in many parts of Gaza.