Gaza: A Gaza Strip ceasefire came into effect early Thursday, an Egyptian source and a senior Islamic Jihad official told AFP, following a spike in violence and bloodshed in the Palestinian enclave.
The “ceasefire agreement comes as a result of Egypt’s efforts” and has been endorsed by “Palestinian factions including Islamic Jihad”, said the top Egyptian official. An Islamic Jihad source confirmed the agreement to AFP.
According to the official, the agreement stipulates that Palestinian factions must ensure a return to calm in Gaza and “maintain peace” during demonstrations, while Israel must stop hostilities and “ensure a ceasefire” during demonstrations by Palestinians.
The agreement, which entered into force at 5:30am (3:30 GMT), came after the death toll from Israeli airstrikes on the Gaza Strip rose to 32 since Tuesday after Palestinian officials said six members of the same family had been killed.
Following the targeted killing of a top militant in Gaza, the two sides had been exchanging fire since Tuesday, and Israel’s military said it recorded more than 350 incoming rockets.
The Israeli military had been targeting what it said were Islamic Jihad militant sites and rocket-launching squads in the coastal enclave.
“Six members of the Abu Malhous family, including three children and two women, were killed in an Israeli strike on their family home in Deir al-Balah in the southern Gaza Strip,” the Palestinian ministry of health said.
The previous day, Israel said it targeted two Islamic Jihad militants preparing to fire anti-tank missiles.
Air raid sirens wailed and fireballs exploded as air defence missiles intercepted rockets, sending Israelis rushing to bomb shelters.
UN and Egyptian mediation
In Gaza, residents surveyed damage and mourned the dead outside a mortuary and at funerals.
UN envoy Nickolay Mladenov arrived in Cairo on Wednesday afternoon, airport officials said, following reports he was to hold talks aimed at halting the fighting.
The UN and Egypt were instrumental in mediating previous ceasefires between Israel and Gaza-based militants.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had said Islamic Jihad must stop its rocket attacks or “absorb more and more blows”.
Islamic Jihad spokesman Musab al-Barayem had said the group was not interested in mediation as it retaliated over the killing of one of its commanders.
Israel killed senior Islamic Jihad commander Baha Abu al-Ata and his wife Asma in a targeted strike early Tuesday, prompting barrages of tit-for-tat rocket fire and air strikes.
According to Israel, Ata was responsible for rocket fire at Israel as well as other attacks and was planning more violence, with the military calling him a “ticking bomb”.
Fear of new all-out conflict
The flare-up raised fears of a new all-out conflict between Israel and Palestinian militants in Gaza, who have fought three wars since 2008.
A total of 32 Palestinians had been killed by Thursday morning, including Ata and his wife as well as three children, according to Gaza’s Hamas-run health ministry.
There have been no Israeli deaths, though one rocket narrowly missed cars on a busy highway.