Israel and Palestinian Militants Reach a Cease-Fire

Israel and Palestinian militants in Gaza agreed to a ceasefire on Sunday night, in a move that is expected to end a three-day conflict that has killed dozens of Palestinians, including civilian commanders. troops, but this does not change the status quo in Israel and the occupied territories.

The conflict began on Friday afternoon when Israel launched air strikes to thwart what it saw as an impending attack from Gaza, crippling southern areas of Israel and leading to destruction. several residential buildings and military bases in Gaza.

Forty-four Palestinians, including 15 children, were killed in the fighting, according to Palestinian health officials. Several Israelis suffered minor injuries while running for cover in front of Palestinian rockets, and several were wounded by shrapnel. Television stations reported that an unexploded rocket had landed in a residential area of ​​Ashkelon, a southern city in Israel.

However, the central dynamics of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, including the 15-year blockade of the Gaza Strip, and this weekend’s escalation keep the two sides further away from negotiating peace. But the fighting has revealed simmering tensions between the Islamic Jihad, the militia leading this latest battle against Israel, and Hamas, the militia that runs Gaza, which has chosen to stay out of the conflict. .

The fighting took a heavy toll on Islamic Jihad, the second-largest militia in Gaza. Two of their key leaders are now dead and many of their bases and weapons factories have been destroyed – factors that have allowed Israel to claim victory in this skirmish.

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

The ceasefire officially went into effect at 11:30 p.m. local time and, with the exception of a rocket fired 20 minutes later, is likely to last until early Monday morning.

Israel declined to disclose more details about the deal, but the jihadist group said it had received assurances from Egyptian officials who mediated that Egypt would lobby Israel. release the two leading members of the group, Bassem Saadi and Khalil Awawdeh, who are currently being held in Israeli prisons.

The conflict highlights both the limits and strengths of Israel’s strategy of offering small economic concessions to ordinary Gazans – particularly 14,000 work permits to help improve the Palestinian economy.

That approach has failed to prevent another conflict over a land that has experienced at least six major waves of violence since Hamas took control of Gaza in 2007. But by helping to persuade Hamas stayed out of this particular conflict, a strategy that may have helped shorten the duration of the engagement, which in the past often lasted weeks rather than days.

Within Israel, the initial conflict could also help discredit Yair Lapid, Israel’s interim prime minister, who has long been accused by critics in Israel of lacking the necessary experience to lead. country during the war.

Before a ceasefire was agreed, Israeli analysts largely described the episode as a victory and even a warning to Israel’s other enemies in the region – especially Hezbollah, Muslim militias in Lebanon – about the fate that awaits them if they also join. all-out war with Israel in the near future.

In contrast, with no change to life or prospects in Gaza and the West Bank, Palestinians have little opportunity to celebrate and many families remain grieving the loss of their lives. Islamic Jihad also feels shame because video appeared to show its rocket malfunctioning and hitting civilian areas in Gaza.

“Objectively speaking, the Israelis will win if the ceasefire is maintained,” said Ibrahim Dalalsha, director of the Horizon Center, a Palestinian political research group. “They have isolated Islamic Jihad. Aside from saying ‘we fired missiles,’ jihad doesn’t really have anything concrete to say to people. And Hamas didn’t participate because they had so much to lose, which is an Israeli achievement.”

The fighting also highlights Israel’s growing acceptance of parts of the Arab world. Past wars in Gaza have been heavily criticized by other Arab countries. This time, the response is more muted.

Two of the three Arab countries to formalize relations with Israel by 2020, Morocco and the United Arab Emirates, expressed mind about violence but avoid criticizing Israel. Only the third country, Bahrain, directly condemn Israeli attacks.

But on a broader scale, analysts say, the fighting has achieved little for both Israelis and Palestinians.

By launching attacks on Friday, killing major militant leaders, Israel has limited what it sees as an imminent threat from jihad. However, the broader stalemate in Gaza will continue as long as Hamas remains in power there, as the group remains unwilling to recognize Israel or disband its militia, which makes Israel reluctant to end it. blockade, maintained with Egypt.

Tzipi Livni, a former senior Israeli minister and top negotiator with the Palestinians, said the weekend’s fighting had stopped a “tick-bomb” but “will not bring about strategic change in Gaza.

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

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

In the short term, however, Israel’s recent economic concessions to Gaza appear to have encouraged Hamas, at least for now, to adopt a less aggressive approach while rebuilding after a war. lasted longer than last year.

About two million people live in Gaza, nearly half of whom are unemployed and only a tenth of them have access to clean water, according to UNICEF.

Since the last war, Israel has provided work permits to 14,000 Gaza residents – a relatively small number, but a record number since Hamas took power in 2007, and enough to provide resources. important financial resources for thousands of families in this area.

Despite losing that concession, Hamas has now begun “to act more rationally,” Dalalsha said. “They have not really recovered from last year’s blow, and they are more interested in continuing to loosen and loosen restrictions on Gaza.”

Before the fighting began, Mr Lapid was accused of taking an overly passive approach to jihad. The group has threatened retaliation from Gaza following the arrest of one of its senior leaders in the occupied West Bank. In response, Lapid closed several roads near Gaza and imposed a curfew on Israeli communities near the border to keep residents out of the militants’ reach.

Mr. Lapid has a reputation for being weak on national security, in contrast to his main rival, Benjamin Netanyahu, who has had extensive experience as Israel’s longest-serving prime minister.

But by starting the air strikes on Friday, Mr Lapid has improved his starting position in the political race, analysts say, as long as the campaign ends with few casualties. for the Israeli side.

On Sunday, Mr Lapid scored a public relations victory when he was photographed handing Mr Netanyahu a formal security briefing – a symbolic sign of the balance of power between the two How people have changed.

But Mr Lapid has also been careful to share responsibilities and stages with his Defense Secretary, Benny Gantz, a former army chief of staff – and that means sharing the credit.

“Lapid now has the image of a prime minister leading a military campaign,” said Gayil Talshir, a political scientist at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. “But it is clear that the brain, planning and preparation will be tied to Gantz rather than Lapid,” Dr. Talshir added.

In Gaza, however, the airstrikes simply brought more misery and instability.

Ghassan Abu Ramadan, 65, a retired civil engineer who was hit by a bullet in Friday’s Israeli attack, is recovering in hospital 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 Abu Ramadan, lying on his bed in the hospital’s intensive care unit. Shifa Institute in Gaza City.

“How long will this go on?” Mr. Abu Ramadan added.

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

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