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Israel and PIJ agree ceasefire

What happened: After two days of fighting, a ceasefire took hold early this morning between Israel and Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ), brokered by Egyptian and UN mediators. PIJ had stopped its rocket fire from Gaza, although there were reports that 5 rockets have since been fired into Israel.

  • Palestinian officials, UN Special Envoy Nickolay Mladenov, and IDF spokesman Brig. Gen. Hidai Zilberman confirmed that a ceasefire had been agreed. All restrictions on Israeli civilian life have been lifted, including the reopening of schools (except in certain villages near the Gaza border).
  • Both PIJ and the IDF are declaring victory. PIJ leader Ziad Nahaleh, in Damascus, last night said that the closing of schools and work places in much of Israel for two days was a significant achievement for his group. The IDF, on the other hand, said the operation – named “Black Belt” – had succeeded in delivering a significant blow to PIJ military personnel and infrastructure, as well as removing a major obstacle to long-term truce negotiations with Hamas in Gaza after the killing of PIJ commander Baha Abu al-Atta, whose assassination sparked the latest conflict.

Context: The 48 hours of fighting were intense but relatively selective on both sides.

  • Approximately 450 rockets were fired from Gaza into Israel – predominantly targeting towns and villages in southern Israel but in certain cases reaching central Israel, the greater Tel Aviv metro area, and areas near Jerusalem. The Iron Dome aerial defence system succeeded in intercepting 90 per cent of rockets it targeted – mostly those aimed at Israeli population centres. PIJ, according to the IDF, was calculated in its rocket fire and sought to conserve its arsenal of long-range rockets.
  • The IDF struck only PIJ targets in Gaza in a deliberate move to keep Hamas out of the fighting (which succeeded). PIJ rocket manufacturing sites, weapons facilities, naval assets, and other installations were hit by Israeli jets, as was the home of a PIJ commander this morning, which is believed to have been used for weapons storage. The strike reportedly also killed several family members.
  • Approximately 23 to 25 military operatives, mostly PIJ, were targeted either in action or preparing for an attack. The Gaza Health Ministry said 34 people were killed and approximately 100 injured. 49 Israelis were injured over the last two days.

Looking ahead: The ceasefire is in effect but UN Special Envoy Nickolay Mladenov said the “coming hours and days will be critical,” adding that “all must show maximum restraint and do their part to prevent bloodshed”. It does appear, however, that both Israel and PIJ (along with Hamas) have an interest in ending the latest conflict – with each able to point to its own achievements.

  • The real test will be whether Israel-Hamas ceasefire talks that had been ongoing – and that al-Atta reportedly wanted to scuttle – progress more smoothly now that a major destabilising element has been eliminated.