A fragile cease-fire between Israeli forces and militants in the Gaza Strip appeared to be held on Sunday after a five-day clash that killed 33 Palestinians and two people in Israel.
In an early test for the truce, Palestinian militants fired a rocket that landed in an open area of southern Israel Sunday evening. Palestinian media said the launch was caused by a technical error as militants were trying to deactivate the rocket.
Israel responded with tank fire on what it said were two military posts belonging to Gaza’s ruling Hamas militant group. Hamas stayed out of the recent round of fighting, but Israel says it holds the group responsible for fire coming out of the territory.
The latest round of Gaza fighting was sparked Tuesday when Israeli jets killed three top commanders from the Islamic Jihad militant group in response to earlier rocket launches from Gaza. Those killings set off a barrage of militant fire and the conflagration threatened to drag the region into another all-out war until Egypt mediated a cease-fire that took hold late Saturday.
While the calm appeared to bring a sense of relief to Gaza’s 2 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, residents surveyed the latest damage caused to their surroundings, with gaping holes left in the apartments serving as what Israel said were hideouts for the six senior Islamic Jihad members killed during this round. Gaza’s main cargo crossing with Israel reopened Sunday after warnings that keeping it closed would force Gaza’s sole power plant to shut down, deepening a power crisis.
Israel was gradually lifting restrictions on residents in southern Israel, which had borne the brunt of the rocket fire.
Israeli officials expressed satisfaction with the latest battle, having killed at least six members of Islamic Jihad’s top brass in what it says were pinpointed strikes based on solid intelligence. But at least 13 of those killed in Gaza were civilians, among them children as young as 4 years old, as well as women.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the targeted attacks on the militants’ hideouts would reverberate around the region.
“Israel’s enemies in Gaza and much farther than Gaza know that even if they try to hide, we are able and prepared to reach them at any time,” he told a meeting of his Cabinet.
Israel has faced criticism in the past from rights groups over the civilian casualties in its bombardments in Gaza. Israel says it does its utmost to avoid harming civilians in its strikes and says militants operate from within the territory’s densely populated areas to fire rockets indiscriminately at Israeli communities.
Even if some of the strikes were precise, others destroyed the homes of uninvolved Palestinians.
(With inputs from agency)
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