Israel, Islamic Jihad to hold fire


Israel and militants in Gaza agreed on Tuesday to an Egyptian-brokered truce deal after four days of violence in which 25 Gazans died and 200 rockets were fired at Israel.

Under the agreement, which came into force at 1.00 a.m. (2300 GMT on Monday), both Israel and militants from the Islamic Jihad, who were responsible for the lion's share of the rocket attacks, agreed to hold their fire.

More than 12 hours later, the nascent truce appeared to be largely holding, though Israeli police said eight rockets and mortar shells had landed, without causing injury or damage.

And the skies over Gaza remained calm.

Israeli officials and Islamic Jihad both confirmed that a deal was in place.

“This morning the situation is relatively quiet, it may be that we find ourselves at the end of this round,” Defence Minister Ehud Barak told reporters during a visit to an army headquarters in southern Israel.

In Gaza, an Islamic Jihad spokesman said the radical group was willing to respect the deal if Israel would end its targeted killings of militants.

“We accept a ceasefire if Israel agrees to apply it by ending its aggressions and assassinations,” Daud Shihab told AFP.

But both sides were quick to warn that the agreement would be short lived if the other side stepped out of line.

“Any Israeli violation requires a strong response by all factions,” said Fawzi Barhum, a spokesman for Gaza's Hamas rulers, who have been seeking Cairo's help to restore calm.

Egypt has been involved in brokering numerous truce agreements between Israel and Gaza militant groups, but a Hamas MP on Monday accused Cairo of using Gaza's ongoing fuel crisis to put pressure on the Islamist movement to enforce a ceasefire on the ground.

Gaza has just one power plant, which shut down three times in the past two months due to fuel shortages, although Egypt has agreed to provide enough fuel to allow it to operate.

The ceasefire came into force after four days of violence that began on Friday with Israel's assassination of the head of the Popular Resistance Committees, a militant group.

The strike prompted militants to fire hundreds of rockets and mortar rounds into southern Israel, wounding five people and prompting authorities to shut down schools within firing range of Gaza.

The Israeli military carried out dozens of air strikes during the flare-up, saying it was targeting militants and weapons facilities.

Palestinian medics put the total death toll late on Monday at 25, with more than 80 injured.

Iran-Hamas split

AP reports from Jerusalem:

In the current round, Islamic Jihad, the second largest militant group in Gaza, has taken the initiative.

Islamic Jihad has maintained close ties to its sole sponsor, Iran, while Hamas in recent months has drifted away from its long-time patron, in part because of disagreements over Syria's crackdown on regime opponents. Iran has punished Hamas for refusing to side with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, including by cutting funding.

Iron Dome success

In Israel, government officials and missile experts praised the performance of Iron Dome, an Israeli-made system designed to shoot down short-range rockets like those fired from Gaza.

Iron Dome has been rolled out over the past year, and the current fighting poses its most serious test. Israel has other systems deployed against longer-range missiles.

Iron Dome uses cameras and radar to track incoming rockets and intercepts only those that would pose a threat to people and property, ignoring those that are expected to fall in open areas.

The military said that of 143 rockets fired since Friday, it tried to intercept 63 and succeeded in all but nine of those attempts. No Israelis have been killed in the current fighting, and property damage has been relatively minor.

Uzi Rubin, a missile expert and former Defence Ministry official, said Iron Dome has exceeded expectations. “The performance up to now has been almost flawless,” said Mr. Rubin, adding the perception could change quickly in the event of casualties.

Military analyst Yiftah Shapir said Iron Dome would likely score fewer interceptions if Israel were attacked by a larger number of missiles simultaneously, a scenario Israel would have to consider if it attacks Iran over its nuclear program. Tehran's proxies on Israel's borders the Lebanese Hezbollah militia, along with Hamas and Islamic Jihad in Gaza are believed to have a stockpile of tens of thousands of rockets and missiles.

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Printable version | Jan 29, 2020 1:15:44 PM |

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