Israel and Palestinian militants reach a ceasefire

Israel and Palestinian militants in Gaza agreed a ceasefire late Sunday night in a move expected to end a three-day conflict that killed dozens of Palestinians, including militant commanders, but did little to change the status quo. Israel and the occupied territories.

The conflict, which began Friday afternoon when Israel launched airstrikes to thwart an alleged imminent attack from Gaza, paralyzed parts of southern Israel and resulted in the destruction of several residential buildings and militant bases in Gaza.

According to Palestinian health officials, 44 Palestinians, including 15 children, were killed in the fighting. Numerous Israelis suffered minor injuries as they took cover from Palestinian rockets, and several were wounded by shrapnel. An unexploded rocket has crashed into a residential area of ​​Ashkelon, a city in southern Israel, broadcasters reported.

The central dynamics of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, including a 15-year blockade of Gaza, nevertheless remain in place, and the escalation this weekend left the two sides as far as ever from the possibility of peace negotiations. But the fighting revealed lingering tensions between Islamic Jihad, the militia leading this latest battle against Israel, and Hamas, the militia that controls Gaza, which chose to remain on the sidelines of the conflict.

The fighting has severely damaged Islamic Jihad, Gaza’s second-largest militia. Two of its key leaders are now dead and many of its bases and weapons factories have been destroyed – factors that enabled Israel to claim victory in this round of battle.

A senior Israeli official said in a statement that Israel had “completed an accurate and effective operation that met all of its strategic objectives.”

The ceasefire officially went into effect at 11:30 p.m. local time and, except for a missile fired 20 minutes later, appeared to last until early Monday morning.

Israel declined to disclose further details about the agreement, but Islamic Jihad said it had received assurances from Egyptian officials who brokered the negotiations that Egypt would lobby Israel to release two of the group’s leading members, Bassem Saadi and Khalil Awawdeh. to leave. currently held in Israeli prisons.

The conflict exposed both the limits and strengths of Israel’s strategy of making minor economic concessions to ordinary Gazans, most notably 14,000 work permits to help improve the Palestinian economy.

That approach has failed to prevent a new conflagration over an enclave that has seen at least six major outbreaks of violence since Hamas took control of Gaza in 2007. But by persuading Hamas to stay out of this particular conflict, the strategy likely contributed to the length of the fighting, which in the past often lasted weeks rather than days.

Within Israel, the conflict also initially appeared to help polish the credentials of Yair Lapid, Israel’s interim prime minister, who has long been accused by critics in Israel of lacking the experience needed to support the country in times of crisis. to lead war.

Before the ceasefire was agreed, Israeli analysts largely portrayed the episode as a victory and even a warning to Israel’s other enemies in the region — most notably Hezbollah, the Islamist militia in Lebanon — of the fate that awaits them. if they also address large-scale battles with Israel in the near future.

By contrast, with no change in their lives or prospects in Gaza and the West Bank, the Palestinians had little to celebrate and many families mourned the loss of life. Islamic Jihad was also ashamed of videos that seemed to show that his missiles were malfunctioning and hitting civilian areas in Gaza.

“Objectively speaking, the Israelis will win if the ceasefire holds,” said Ibrahim Dalalsha, director of the Horizon Center, a Palestinian political research group. “They have isolated Islamic Jihad. Other than saying ‘we fired missiles’, Islamic Jihad doesn’t really have anything concrete to tell the people. And Hamas did not participate because they have too much to lose, which is an achievement for Israel.”

The fighting also highlighted Israel’s growing acceptance by parts of the Arab world. Past wars in Gaza have drawn much criticism from other Arab countries. This time the reaction was more muted.

Two of the three Arab countries to formalize ties with Israel by 2020, Morocco and the United Arab Emirates, expressed concern about the violence, but avoided criticizing Israel. Only the third country, Bahrain, directly convicted Israel’s strikes.

But in broader terms, analysts said, the fighting has yielded little for Israelis or Palestinians.

By carrying out attacks Friday that killed major militant leaders, Israel curbed what it said was an imminent threat from Islamic Jihad. But the wider stalemate in Gaza will continue as long as Hamas is in power there, as the group is still unwilling to recognize Israel or disband its militia, leaving Israel unwilling to end its blockade, which it maintains alongside Egypt. .

The weekend’s war stopped a “ticking bomb” but “will not bring strategic change to Gaza,” said Tzipi Livni, a former Israeli minister and chief negotiator with the Palestinians.

Israel has not had a clear strategy for Gaza since it unilaterally withdrew from the enclave in 2005, she said.

“And if you don’t know what you want to achieve in the long run,” said Ms. Livni, “you go from one round of combat to the next.”

In the short term, however, recent Israeli economic concessions to Gaza seem to have encouraged Hamas, at least for now, to take a less aggressive approach as it rebuilds after a longer war last year.

According to UNICEF, about two million people live in Gaza, nearly half of whom are unemployed and only one in ten have access to clean water.

Since the last war, Israel has offered work permits to 14,000 Gazans – a small number in relative terms, but a record number since Hamas took power in 2007, and enough to provide a crucial financial lifeline for thousands of families in the enclave.

Wary of losing that concession, Hamas has for the time being started to “act rationally,” Dalalsha said. “They are not really healed from last year’s blow, and they are more concerned with continuing the easing and easing of restrictions on Gaza.”

Before the fighting started, Mr. Lapid accused of too passive an approach to Islamic Jihad. The group had threatened reprisals from Gaza after the arrest of one of its leading leaders in the occupied West Bank. In response, Mr. Lapid traveled several roads near Gaza and imposed a curfew on Israeli communities at the border to keep residents out of the militants’ reach.

Mr. Lapid already had a reputation for being weak on national security, unlike his main rival, Benjamin Netanyahu, who built up a wealth of experience as Israel’s longest-serving prime minister.

But by launching airstrikes on Friday, Lapid improved his starting position in the political race, analysts said, as long as the campaign ends with little cost in terms of casualties on the Israeli side.

On Sunday, Mr Lapid took a public relations victory when he was photographed giving Mr Netanyahu a formal security briefing — a symbolic indication of how the balance of power between the two men has shifted.

But Mr Lapid has also made sure to share the responsibility and the podium with his defense secretary, Benny Gantz, a former military chief of staff – meaning he shares the credit.

“Now Lapid has taken on the image of a prime minister who has led a military operation,” said Gayil Talshir, a political scientist at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. “But it’s clear that the brain, planning and preparation will be associated more with Gantz than with Lapid,” added Dr. Talshir to it.

In Gaza, however, the airstrikes have only brought more misery and uncertainty.

Ghassan Abu Ramadan, 65, a retired civil engineer who was hit in an Israeli attack on Friday, recovered in hospital on Sunday during ceasefire negotiations.

“We have a complicated life here in Gaza, we don’t know what will happen, what our future will be,” said Mr Abu Ramadan, lying on a bed in the intensive care unit of Shifa Hospital in Gaza City.

“How long is this going to take?” mr. Added Abu Ramadhan.

Raja Abdulrahim, Fady Hanona, Gabby Sobelman, Carol Sutherland and Iyad Abu Hweila reported.

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