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Israel and Islamic Jihad agree to cease-fire, ending five-day conflict

Palestinians celebrate on the street in Gaza after Palestinian factions and Israel agreed on a cease-fire on Saturday. (Ibraheem Abu Mustafa/Reuters)
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TEL AVIV — Israel and Islamic Jihad, the Gaza-based militant group, agreed to a cease-fire Saturday night, ending a five-day bout of violence that killed at least 33 people in Gaza and two people in Israel.

“A round of fighting, resistance, and steadfastness ended, but our resistance is renewed, stronger and more aggressive,” said a statement Saturday night by an umbrella group of militant factions in Gaza, including Hamas, the Islamist militant group that rules the enclave, and Islamic Jihad, its smaller rival that has engaged several times with Israel in recent years.

“Our will to fight will never back down,” the statement said.

Under the instruction of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Tzachi Hanegbi, the head of Israel’s National Security Council, thanked Egypt for its “vigorous efforts to bring about a cease-fire.” Hanegbi added that “quiet will be met with quiet.”

Minutes after the cease-fire took effect at 10 p.m. local time, several rockets were lobbed into Israeli border communities. The Israeli military, meanwhile, said that it struck two concealed rocket launchers belonging to Islamic Jihad, minutes after hitting a training facility used by the organization.

Last-minute exchanges of fire have been hallmarks of previous cease-fire agreements.

Hussein al-Sheikh, a top-ranking official in the Palestinian Authority, based in the West Bank city of Ramallah, said that the cease-fire was the result of “intensive contacts” between his government “and Arab brothers and the American administration.”

It was not clear if the truce addressed the transfer of the body of Khader Adnan, which has been held by Israel since his death earlier this month, following a prolonged hunger strike in an Israeli prison. The death of Adnan, a high-profile member of Islamic Jihad, spurred a barrage of more than 100 rockets from Gaza.

A week later, on Tuesday, three dozen Israeli fighter jets carried out surprise airstrikes that killed three Islamic Jihad leaders in separate residential locations. At least 12 other Palestinians were killed in the pre-dawn strikes, according to Palestinian health officials, including women, children and relatives of the three targeted men.

“The goals of the operation were already achieved in its first seconds — the elimination of the senior officials who undermined the security situation in the south,” tweeted Israeli military spokesman Daniel Hagari on Saturday. He added that the length of the campaign provided the Israeli military the opportunity to restore deterrence.

Hamas fighters never joined the conflict, according to Israeli officials, publicly pledging support for Islamic Jihad but remaining on the sidelines while the confrontation decimated the rival group’s leadership and depleted its arsenal.

Hopes of a quick resolution faded as Egyptian-brokered cease-fire negotiations stalled this week and the tit-for-tat attacks continued, with Israel striking what it said were rocket launchpads and Islamic Jihad firing hundreds of rockets into Israel.

Islamic Jihad demanded during the talks that Israel halt targeted killings and cancel next week’s festivities for Jerusalem Day, marking the Israeli capture of East Jerusalem during the 1967 Arab-Israeli war, according to Israeli media. The terms of the final agreement are still unclear.

The Israeli military said that among its targets this week were militant leaders responsible for attacks against Israelis in recent months, including the barrage of rockets after Adnan’s death. Early Thursday, the Israeli air force killed Ali Ghali, the head of Islamic Jihad’s rocket launching program; several hours later, his replacement, Ahmad Abu Daqqa, was killed. In total, six of the group’s commanders were taken out.

Scores of Palestinian civilians were also killed in the Israeli strikes, according to Palestinian health officials, including at least six children.

Islamic Jihad lobbed more than 1,200 rockets into Israel, hitting mostly southern border towns but also, in several spurts, taking aim at Jerusalem and Tel Aviv.

One Israeli woman, Inga Abramyan, 80, was killed in the central city of Rehovot on Thursday while attempting to move her paralyzed husband to a shelter after their building was hit by a rocket. The hit was the result of a technical malfunction of the neighborhood’s Iron Dome, the U.S.-backed antimissile defense system.

On Saturday, a Gazan man who was working at an Israeli construction site, was killed by a rocket launched from the enclave.

Balousha reported from Gaza City and Hendrix from Washington.