Fragile Israel, Gaza Cease-Fire Holding08/08 06:03

Fragile Israel, Gaza Cease-Fire Holding08/08 06:03

   A fragile cease-fire deal to end nearly three days of fighting between 
Israel and Palestinian militants in Gaza held into Monday morning -- a sign the 
latest round of violence may have abated.

   GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip (AP) -- A fragile cease-fire deal to end nearly three 
days of fighting between Israel and Palestinian militants in Gaza held into 
Monday morning -- a sign the latest round of violence may have abated.

   The flare-up was the worst fighting between Israel and Gaza militant groups 
since Israel and Gaza's Hamas rulers fought an 11-day war last year, adding to 
the destruction and misery that have plagued blockaded Gaza for years.

   Since Friday, Israeli aircraft had pummeled targets in Gaza while the 
Iran-backed Palestinian Islamic Jihad militant group fired hundreds of rockets 
at Israel.

   Over three days of fighting, 44 Palestinians were killed, including 15 
children and four women, and 311 were wounded, the Palestinian Health Ministry 
said. Islamic Jihad said 12 of those killed were militants and Israel said some 
of the dead were killed by misfired rockets.

   Israel on Monday said it was partially reopening crossings into Gaza for 
humanitarian needs and would fully open them if calm is maintained. Gaza's lone 
power plant came back online Monday after fuel trucks entered a cargo crossing 
for the first time since the crossings with the strip were closed last week. 
The closure prompted a fuel shortage that ground the plant to a halt on 
Saturday. Gaza suffers from a chronic power crisis.

   Life for hundreds of thousands of Israelis was disrupted during the 
violence. Security precautions imposed in recent days on residents of southern 
Israel were being gradually lifted Monday, the military said.

   Both sides boasted of their successes. Speaking to reporters in Tehran on 
Sunday, Islamic Jihad leader Ziad al-Nakhalah said the militant group remained 
strong, despite losing two of its leaders. "This is a victory for Islamic 
Jihad," he said.

   Despite that claim, the group undoubtedly sustained a blow during Israel's 
fierce offensive. Beyond losing the two leaders, it reduced its arsenal by 
firing hundreds of rockets without striking a single Israeli, thanks to 
Israel's missile defense system that shot most of them down. Its own rockets 
may have killed several Gazans, according to Israel.

   The cease-fire deal contained a promise that Egypt would work for the 
release of two senior Islamic Jihad detainees held by Israel, but there were no 
guarantees this would happen. The weekend fighting was also bound to complicate 
Islamic Jihad's relations with Hamas.

   A senior Israeli diplomatic official said the offensive had taken Islamic 
Jihad's capabilities back "decades." The flareup was "a successful 
counterterrorism operation" because Israel achieved its goals in a brief period 
of time. he said, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not 
authorized to discuss the operation with the media.

   The violence had threatened to spiral into another all-out war but ended up 
being contained because Gaza's ruling Hamas group stayed on the sidelines, 
possibly because it fears Israeli reprisals and undoing economic understandings 
with Israel, including Israeli work permits for thousands of Gaza residents, 
that bolster its control over the coastal strip.

   Israel and Hamas have fought four wars since the group overran the territory 
in 2007.

   Israel launched its operation with a strike Friday on a leader of the 
Islamic Jihad, saying there were "concrete threats" of an anti-tank missile 
attack against Israelis in response to the arrest last week of another senior 
Islamic Jihad member in the West Bank. That arrest came after months of Israeli 
raids in the West Bank to round up suspects following a spate of Palestinian 
attacks against Israel.

   It killed another Islamic Jihad leader in a strike on Saturday.

   Israel said some of the deaths during this round were caused by errant 
militant rocket fire, including one incident in the Jebaliya refugee camp in 
northern Gaza in which six Palestinians were killed Saturday. On Sunday, a 
projectile hit a home in the same area of Jebaliya, killing two men. 
Palestinians held Israel responsible, while Israel said it was investigating 
whether the area was struck by an errant rocket.

   In the occupied West Bank on Monday, Israeli troops demolished the homes of 
two Palestinians suspected of carrying out a deadly attack against Israelis in 
the city of Elad in May. The soldiers faced a violent protest during the 
operation, the military said.

   The outburst of violence in Gaza was a key test for Israel's caretaker Prime 
Minister Yair Lapid, who lacks experience leading military operations. Still, 
he unleashed the offensive less than three months before a general election in 
which he is campaigning to keep the job.

   President Joe Biden said he welcomed the cease-fire between Israel and 
Gaza-based militants.

   "Over these last 72-hours, the United States has worked with officials from 
Israel, the Palestinian Authority, Egypt, Qatar, Jordan, and others throughout 
the region to encourage a swift resolution to the conflict," he said in a 
statement Sunday.

   The U.N. Security Council was to hold an emergency meeting Monday on the 
violence. China, which holds the council 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.

   "We underscore our commitment to do all we can towards ending the ongoing 
escalation, ensuring the safety and security of the civilian population, and 
following-up on the Palestinian prisoners file," said U.N. Special Coordinator 
for the Middle East Peace Process, Tor Wennesland, in a statement.

   The Israeli army said militants in Gaza fired about 1,100 rockets toward 
Israel, with about 200 of them landing inside the Palestinian enclave. The army 
said its air defenses had intercepted 380 of them, including two fired toward 
Jerusalem. The military did not specify what happened to the remainder, but 
they likely fell in open areas or broke up in the air.

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

   Hamas had a strong incentive to avoid another war. Last year's Israel-Hamas 
war, one of four major conflicts, and several smaller battles over the last 15 
years, have exacted a staggering toll on the impoverished territory's 2.3 
million Palestinian residents.

   Over the past year, Israel and Hamas have reached tacit understandings based 
on trading calm for work permits and a slight easing of the border blockade, 
imposed by Israel and Egypt when Hamas overran the territory 15 years ago. 
Israel has issued 12,000 work permits to Gaza laborers, and has held out the 
prospect of granting another 2,000 permits.

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