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Israel, Gaza militants agree to cease-fire after deadly weekend kills at least 43

Palestinians search through the rubble of a building in which Khaled Mansour, a top Islamic Jihad militant, was killed in an Israeli airstrike in Rafah in the Gaza Strip on Aug. 7, 2022. (Yousef Masoud/AP)

TEL AVIV — Israel and militants in the Gaza Strip have agreed to a cease-fire after more than two days of airstrikes and rocket attacks that killed 43 people and injured more than 300 in Gaza and forced thousands of Israelis to shelter in bunkers.

The Islamic Jihad militant group said in a statement that it had agreed to cease hostilities starting at 11:30 p.m. local time Sunday. The breakthrough came as conditions inside Gaza are becoming increasingly dire, with electricity supplies dwindling and hospitals warning that vital services are close to collapse.

Israel said in a statement that it agreed to the cease-fire but that it “maintained the right to respond strongly” to any violation of the agreement.

Israel and militants in the Gaza Strip agreed to a cease-fire on Aug. 7 after nearly three days of airstrikes and rocket attacks that killed 43 Palestinians. (Video: Reuters)

Under the agreement, Israel would halt the airstrikes it has been conducting in Gaza since Friday, during which two senior Islamic Jihad leaders were killed. Islamic Jihad was required to halt rocket attacks; it had fired more than 600 projectiles toward Israel, including Tel Aviv or Jerusalem, the vast majority of which were intercepted by Israel’s Iron Dome air-defense systems.

The cease-fire ended more than two days of intense cross-border violence that started Friday, when Israel killed Islamic Jihad’s Tayseer Jabari, the group’s chief of operations in the northern Gaza Strip. On Saturday, Israel killed Khaled Mansour, the head of the Islamic Jihad’s operations in southern Gaza, in an airstrike that demolished a house in Rafah near the border with Egypt.

Israeli and Palestinian diplomats had said Sunday afternoon that talks of a cease-fire, through Egyptian and Qatari back channels, were progressing.

The violence continued as negotiators worked. Images on social media showed some of the most harrowing scenes of an escalation that has killed 11 children, according to the Palestinian Health Ministry. The videos included a person hit by a blast while riding a horse and a man running from the scene of the strike with the bloody body of a toddler.

Rocket barrages triggered air raid sirens around southern and central Israel late Sunday, including near Ben Gurion Airport, where officials briefly paused landings after air-defense missiles blew up at least one projectile near approach routes.

The Israeli army said it had struck more than 140 Islamic Jihad targets and “neutralized” the group’s top brass and assets, including tunnels used by militants to carry out attacks, weapons storage facilities and rocket-launch sites.

There have been no reported deaths in Israel, where the Iron Dome missile-defense system has intercepted about 97 percent of the approximately 470 rockets fired from Gaza since Friday, according to the Israeli military. It said about 20 percent have misfired and landed in Gaza.

Israeli strikes in Gaza kill senior militant leader, at least 9 others

In the refugee camp of Jabaliya, in the northern Gaza Strip, an explosion on Saturday night killed at least four children. The Israeli military, which shared satellite footage of rocket fire from the enclave, said that the fatalities were the result of a failed Islamic Jihad rocket launch and that it did not conduct an airstrike at the time of the blast. It said it was still investigating the circumstances of an explosion in Jabaliya on Sunday morning.

A spokesman for the Gaza Interior Ministry, Eyad al-Bozom, said Israel “bears full responsibility for this crime and all the crimes it commits during its brutal aggression against our people in the Gaza Strip.”

Muhammad Abu Qaida, from Beit Lahiya in northern Gaza, said his cousin Naama Abu Qaida, 56, was among those killed in the Israeli operation. He said she and her family were in a parked car near their home, heading to her daughter’s wedding. Abu Qaida said two of his family members were taken to the hospital in critical condition.

“We did not expect anything to happen in the area, and there was nothing fired from the area,” Abu Qaida said. “It is hundreds of meters away from the Erez Crossing and is exposed to Israel.”

A U.N. delegation from the United Arab Emirates, which serves as the representatives of Arab countries in the international body and has been expanding ties with Israel in recent years, formally filed a motion to convene the Security Council on behalf of the Palestinians.

The Israeli operation, code-named Breaking Dawn, comes just over a year after Israel’s May 2021 war in Gaza with Hamas, the Islamist group that controls the enclave.

The rockets targeting Jerusalem come as observant Jews mark the holiday of Tisha B’Av, during which more than 2,000 Jews ascended a contested holy site known as the Temple Mount by Jews and as the Noble Sanctuary by Muslims.

The elevated esplanade is officially managed by Jordanian authorities, which ban non-Muslim prayer atop the site, though the policy has been increasingly violated in recent years by a rise in politically active Jewish worshipers. Clashes between Israeli security forces and Palestinian demonstrators at and around the flash-point site led to the 11-day war last year, which killed more than 200 people in Gaza and 12 people in Israel.

Itamar Ben Gvir, the leader of a far-right Israeli movement and an advocate for allowing prayer for visitors of all religions at the Temple Mount, visited the site Sunday morning, flanked by police, and shouted, “The nation of Israel lives!” Palestinians around him countered, “God is great!”

“We will never surrender, not to the missiles, not to the threats of the terrorists and not to those of us who attack me,” Ben Gvir said on Twitter, including a photo of his son on the Temple Mount.

The latest round of fighting began last week when Israel arrested the Islamic Jihad leader in the West Bank, Bassem al-Saadi, as part of ongoing raids that followed attacks by Palestinian citizens of Israel and other Palestinians in spring.

A senior Israeli official, speaking on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitive security situation, said Sunday that Israeli security forces arrested 20 Islamic Jihad operatives in overnight raids in the West Bank, in addition to 19 the previous night.

Over the two days of fighting, Hamas has not claimed responsibility for the rocket strikes on Israel. Israel blames the group for all such attacks originating from the Gaza Strip, and Israeli analysts say any Hamas involvement in this round of fighting would elevate the scope of the Israeli operation.

Hamas political leader Ismail Haniyeh said “intensive efforts with all parties” were underway.

A Middle East official said “talks are underway with Egypt to reach a cease-fire,” speaking on the condition of anonymity because of the fragility of the mediation.

A senior Israeli official, speaking on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the situation, said Israel was prepared to open humanitarian corridors, provide fuel for generators and deliver hospital supplies as soon as the rockets stop.

“Quiet will be answered with quiet,” he said. “Once the Islamic Jihad stop firing and Hamas gets a handle on things, it could happen very quickly.”

President Biden said in a statement Sunday night that he welcomes the cease-fire announcement.

“My support for Israel’s security is long-standing and unwavering — including its right to defend itself against attack,” he said, adding that the United States supports an investigation into civilian deaths in Gaza.

“Israelis and Palestinians both deserve to live safely and securely and to enjoy equal measures of freedom, prosperity, and democracy,” Biden said. “My Administration will remain engaged with Israeli and Palestinian leaders to support that vision.”

Balousha reported from Gaza City. Miriam Berger in Jerusalem contributed to this report.