GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip — Israel and the Islamic Jihad militant group in the Gaza Strip agreed to an Egyptian-brokered ceasefire late Saturday, May 13, 2023, seeking to halt five days of intense fighting that killed 33 Palestinians, including at least 13 civilians. Two people in Israel were killed by rocket fire.
The tenuous ceasefire appeared to take effect just after 10 p.m., with a last-minute burst of rocket fire and Israeli airstrikes stretching several minutes past the deadline announced by Egypt. Late Saturday, Israel reported additional incoming fire and said it was again striking in Gaza. But the calm appeared to be quickly restored.
While the calm appeared to bring a sense of relief to Gaza’s more than two million people and hundreds of thousands of Israelis who had been largely confined to bomb shelters in recent days, the agreement did nothing to address the underlying issues that have fueled numerous rounds of fighting between Israel and Palestinian militant groups in the Gaza Strip over the years.
In Gaza, Islamic Jihad spokesman Tareq Selmi said Israel had agreed to halt its policy of targeted strikes on the group’s leaders. “Any stupidity or assassination by the occupation will be met with a response and the Zionist enemy bears the responsibility,” he said.
But in a statement thanking Egypt for its mediation efforts, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s national security adviser, Tzachi Nanegbi, said that “quiet would be answered with quiet” and Israel would do “everything that it needs to defend itself.”
Still, as the truce took hold, the deafening whooshes of outgoing rockets and booms of Israeli airstrikes were replaced by the honking of cars in Gaza.
Streets that had been desolate in recent days quickly teemed with people reveling in the ceasefire, waving Palestinian flags and flashing victory signs from speeding vehicles.
The truce could be further tested on Thursday when Israeli nationalists plan their annual “Jerusalem Day” march through the Muslim Quarter of Jerusalem’s Old City.
The march meant to celebrate Israel’s capture of the Old City and its Jewish holy sites in 1967, is a frequent source of friction and helped spark an 11-day war with Hamas in 2021.
On Saturday, Palestinians in Gaza ventured out to assess the damage wrought by Israeli warplanes and salvage whatever they could from four destroyed homes in a densely populated neighborhood.
Residents denied the army’s claims that it had attacked Islamic Jihad targets.
“We have no rocket launching pads at all. This is a residential area,” said Awni Obaid, beside the debris of what was his three-story house in the central town of Deir al-Balah.
The nearby house of his relative, Jehad Obaid, was also leveled.
“I felt like vomiting because of the dust,” he said. “This is extraordinary hatred. They claim they don’t strike at children, but what we see is craziness, destruction.” (AP)