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Israel and the Palestinians have reached an understanding to end the latest round of fighting in Gaza after Israeli air strikes killed at least 24 people and militants fired about 200 rockets from the coastal enclave, wounding four.
“There are understandings, not written agreements,” Israeli Minister of Home Front Defense Matan Vilnai told Israel Radio today. “There are basically understandings between different bodies on what is OK to do, and is not OK to do.”
A spokesman for the Islamic Jihad militant group, Dawood Shihab, said in a press statement that the two sides reached a truce after Egyptian mediation that took effect before dawn today. Three rockets fired from Gaza struck Israel following the truce deadline. There were no Israeli strikes overnight, the army said.
This month’s bloodshed began with a March 9 Israeli air strike on what the army said were two militants planning an attack from the Egyptian-controlled Sinai, including Zuhir al- Qaisi, head of the Popular Resistance Committees. The rocket attacks and air strikes that followed have been the worst since August, when eight Israelis were killed in an attack near the resort of Eilat and at least 24 Palestinians died in subsequent air raids.
“The understanding in Gaza is that the Egyptians have brokered a mutual cease-fire,” said Mukhemer Abu Sada, a political scientist at Al-Azhar University in Gaza City. “We will see in the next few days whether this is true or not.”
Israeli officials would not explicitly acknowledge any formal agreement with the Gaza groups, following an official policy that it doesn’t negotiate with those it defines as terrorist organizations.
“Our message is clear: quiet will bring quiet,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said today at a government convention in Jerusalem. “Whoever violates it or even tries to violate it - we will find him.”
Pressure on militia groups in Gaza from Hamas, the Islamic movement that rules the Palestinian coastal territory, was a key factor in reaching a truce, according to Abu Sada. “Hamas does not want to be provoked into a war with Israel that could endanger its rule of Gaza, and its very existence,” he said.
Israel said it holds Hamas responsible for all attacks emanating from the territory. Hamas, which has ruled Gaza since 2007, is considered a terrorist group by the U.S., Israel and the European Union. It seized full control of the territory in 2007, ousting forces loyal to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas after winning parliamentary elections a year earlier.
Peace negotiations between Israel and Abbas’s Palestinian Authority fell apart in September 2010 when Netanyahu refused to extend a 10-month building freeze in West Bank settlements and Abbas said he wouldn’t negotiate unless all construction stopped.
In 2008, Israel sent troops into Gaza during a three-week operation aimed at stopping rocket fire, in which at least 1,100 Palestinians and 12 Israelis were killed.
Israel’s Iron Dome anti-missile system successfully intercepted 56 rockets from Gaza, most of them aimed at Israel’s two largest southern cities, Ashdod and Beersheba, the army said.
“It was largely thanks to Iron Dome there were no Israeli fatalities,” said Gerald Steinberg, political scientist at Bar- Ilan University outside Tel Aviv. “If there had been, the public pressure for an Israeli ground operation would have been much greater.”
Many of those killed in Gaza were members of Islamic Jihad, a small militant group supported by Iran, and considered a terrorist organization by Israel, the U.S. and European Union. The violence erupted last week just days after Netanyahu returned from a trip to the U.S., where he discussed the Iranian nuclear program with President Barack Obama and said Israel must be free to protect itself from any threat “by itself.”
The TA-25 benchmark stock index closed up 0.7 percent in Tel Aviv after yesterday dropping 1.1 percent, the most in almost one week.
To contact the reporters on this story: Calev Ben-David in Jerusalem at firstname.lastname@example.org Saud Abu Ramadan in Jerusalem at email@example.com;
To contact the editor responsible for this story: Andrew J. Barden at firstname.lastname@example.org