Israel and Palestinian militants in Gaza agreed to a ceasefire late Sunday night, a move expected to end a three-day conflict that has killed dozens of Palestinians, including militant commanders, but which has not changed the status quo in Israel and the possessions.
The conflict, which began on Friday afternoon when Israel launched airstrikes to prevent an imminent attack from Gaza, paralyzed parts of southern Israel and resulted in the destruction of many homes and militant bases in Gaza.
Forty-four Palestinians, including 15 children, were killed in the fighting, according to Palestinian health officials. Dozens of Israelis were slightly injured while running for cover from Palestinian rockets, and several were injured by shrapnel. An unexploded rocket landed in a residential area of Ashkelon, a city in southern Israel, broadcasters said.
The central dynamics of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, including the 15-year blockade of Gaza, remain in place, however, and this weekend’s escalation has left the two sides as far as ever from the possibility of peace talks. But the fighting has exposed tensions between Islamic Jihad, the militia that led this latest battle against Israel, and Hamas, the militia that rules Gaza, which has chosen to stay on the sidelines of the conflict.
The fighting has severely damaged Islamic Jihad, Gaza’s second-largest militia. Two of its key leaders are now dead and many of its bases and weapons factories have been destroyed – factors that have allowed Israel to claim victory in this round of fighting.
A senior Israeli official said in a statement that Israel completed “a precise and effective operation that met all of its strategic objectives.”
The ceasefire officially came into effect at 11:30 p.m. local time and, apart from a rocket fired 20 minutes later, appeared to be in place until early Monday.
Israel declined to disclose further details of the deal, but Islamic Jihad said it had received assurances from Egyptian officials who mediated the negotiations that Egypt would pressure Israel to release two of the group’s leading members, Bassem Saadi and Khalil Awaunde. who are currently held in Israeli prisons.
The conflict highlighted both the limits and the merits of Israel’s strategy of offering small economic concessions to ordinary Gazans — notably 14,000 work permits to help improve the Palestinian economy.
That approach failed to prevent another conflagration in an enclave that has seen at least six major outbreaks of violence since Hamas seized control of Gaza in 2007. But in helping to convince Hamas to stay out of this particular conflict, the strategy it probably helped to shorten the duration of battles, which in the past often lasted for weeks rather than days.
Inside Israel, the conflict also initially appeared to help smooth the credentials of Yair Lapid, Israel’s interim prime minister, who has long been accused by critics in Israel of lacking the experience to lead the country in times of war. .
Before the ceasefire was agreed, Israeli analysts largely portrayed the episode as a victory and even a warning to Israel’s other enemies in the region – particularly Hezbollah, the Islamist militia in Lebanon – of the fate that awaits them if they enter also in full-scale combat with Israel in the near future.
Instead, with no change in life or prospects in Gaza and the West Bank, Palestinians had little to celebrate and many families were left to mourn the loss of life. Islamic Jihad was also in a difficult position Video which appeared to show its missiles malfunctioning and hitting civilian areas in Gaza.
“Objectively speaking, the Israelis will win if the truce prevails,” said Ibrahim Dalalsha, director of the Horizon Center, a Palestinian political research group. “They have isolated Islamic Jihad. Other than “launching rockets”, Islamic Jihad doesn’t really have anything concrete to say to people. And Hamas didn’t participate because it has too much to lose, which is an achievement for Israel.”
The fighting also highlighted Israel’s growing acceptance in parts of the Arab world. Previous wars in Gaza have drawn sharp criticism from other Arab countries. This time, the response was more muted.
Two of the three Arab countries that formalized ties with Israel in 2020, Morocco and the United Arab Emirates, is expressed worry on the violence, but avoided criticism of Israel. Only the third country, Bahrain, immediately doomed Israel’s strikes.
But in broader terms, analysts said, the fighting accomplished little for either the Israelis or the Palestinians.
By launching strikes on Friday that killed key militant leaders, Israel contained what it said was an imminent threat from Islamic Jihad. But the broader stalemate in Gaza will continue as long as Hamas is in power there, as the group remains unwilling to recognize Israel or disband its militia, making Israel reluctant to end its blockade, which is maintained by shared with Egypt.
The weekend war stopped a “bomb” but “will not bring strategic change to Gaza,” said Tzipi Livni, Israel’s former senior minister and chief negotiator with the Palestinians.
Israel has not had a clear strategy for Gaza since it unilaterally withdrew from the enclave in 2005, he said.
“And when you don’t know what you want to achieve in the long term,” Ms. Livni said, “you go from one round of battle to the next.”
In the short term, however, recent Israeli economic concessions in Gaza appear to have encouraged Hamas, at least for now, to take a less aggressive approach as it rebuilds after a longer war last year.
About two million people live in Gaza, nearly half of them unemployed and only one in 10 of them have access to clean water, according to UNICEF.
Since the last war, Israel has offered work permits to 14,000 Gazans – a small number in relative terms, but a record number since Hamas took power in 2007, and enough to provide a critical economic lifeline to thousands of families in pouch.
Wary of losing that concession, Hamas has now begun to “act more rationally”, Mr Dalalsa said. “They haven’t really healed from last year’s blow and are more interested in continuing to loosen and loosen the restrictions on Gaza.”
Before the fighting began, Mr Lapid was accused of taking a too passive approach to Islamic Jihad. The group had threatened retaliation from Gaza after the arrest of one of its senior leaders in the occupied West Bank. In response, Mr. 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 already had a reputation for being weak on national security, unlike his main rival, Benjamin Netanyahu, who gained a wealth of experience as Israel’s longest-serving prime minister.
But by launching airstrikes on Friday, Mr. Lapid improved his initial position in the political race, analysts said, as long as the campaign ends with little cost in terms of casualties on the Israeli side.
On Sunday, Mr Lapid scored a PR victory when he was photographed giving Mr Netanyahu an official security briefing – a symbolic indication of how the balance of power between the two men has shifted.
But Mr. Lapid also made sure to share the blame and the stage with his defense minister, Benny Gantz, a former military chief of staff — and that means sharing the credit.
“Now Lapid has acquired the image of a prime minister who led a military operation,” said Gail Talsir, a political scientist at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. “But it is clear that the mastermind, planning and preparation will be more associated with Gantz than with Lapid,” added Dr. Talshir.
In Gaza, however, the airstrikes have only brought more misery and uncertainty.
Ghassan Abu Ramadan, 65, a retired civil engineer who was hit during an Israeli attack on Friday, was recovering in hospital on Sunday during ceasefire negotiations.
“We have a complicated life here in Gaza, we don’t know what will happen, what will be our future,” said Mr Abu Ramadan, lying on a bed in the intensive care unit of Shifa Hospital 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 to this report.