Ceasefire between Israel and Islamic Jihad delayed over eleventh-hour demands

Egyptian-brokered truce in Gaza delayed by several hours as militant group sought to have two captives freed

The start of the ceasefire that was supposed to bring an end to three days of fighting between Israel and the Islamic Jihad in Gaza was delayed by a few hours on Sunday night due to last-minute demands from the militant group.

Rocket fire and Israeli strikes continued until the new deadline but it was clear that the latest round was drawing to a close.

Israeli officials stressed they had made no concessions in agreeing to the Egyptian-brokered truce and repeated the mantra of previous ceasefire agreements that “quiet will be met with quiet”.

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The Islamic Jihad failed to squeeze a last-minute concession out of Israel to free two of its prisoners, instead receiving a (meaningless) Egyptian promise to work towards their release.

Islamic Jihad leader Ziad al-Nakhalah spoke of “an historic victory against the enemy’s aggression” but the militant group failed in its most important goal – to persuade the much-more powerful Hamas, which rules the Gaza Strip, to join the fighting.

Military defeat

Hamas, for now at least, is more interested in maintaining the relative quiet on the border with Israel.

Israeli commentators summed up the three-day campaign, dubbed Operation Breaking Dawn, as a serious military defeat for the Islamic Jihad. The militant group was taken by surprise, lost two of its senior commanders and fired close to 1,000 rockets into Israel without inflicting even one serious injury, mainly due to Israel’s Iron Dome missile defence system that intercepted more than 95 per cent of incoming projectiles.

But Israel’s tactical victory doesn’t end the strategic problem of Gaza and, without a diplomatic vision, every truce is destined to be no more than a temporary lull until the next round.

More than 40 Palestinians were killed, militant fighters along with civilians, including children, but Israel claims that many of the civilian fatalities were from Islamic Jihad rockets that fell short.

The latest round of fighting came only five weeks after centrist Yair Lapid became Israel’s interim prime minister, a post he will hold until the election on November 1st – and maybe longer if a new government cannot be formed.

He was criticised by the right-wing opposition as a lightweight when it comes to security affairs, lacking the experience of Binyamin Netanyahu. But he has handled the conflict, together with defence minister Benny Gantz, with a resolve and calm that has forced even his detractors to show him some respect.

Mark Weiss

Mark Weiss

Mark Weiss is a contributor to The Irish Times based in Jerusalem