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Gaza power plant restarts as Israel-Palestinian truce holds


By Fares Akram and Tia Goldenberg, Associated Press  

 

    A ceasefire between Israel and Palestinian militants appears to be holding after nearly three days of violence, with Gaza’s sole power plant resuming operations on Monday Israel reopening crossings into the territory.

    Israel also lifted security restrictions on southern Israeli communities after the Egyptian-mediated truce took effect late on Sunday.

    Fighting abated and war-weary people in Gaza and Israel were left picking up the pieces after the worst violence since an 11-day war between Israel and Hamas last year.

    Since Friday, Israeli aircraft had pummelled targets in Gaza while the Iran-backed Palestinian Islamic Jihad militant group fired hundreds of rockets at Israel.

    Over three days of fighting, 44 Palestinians were killed, including 15 children and four women, and 311 were wounded, the Palestinian Health Ministry said.

    Islamic Jihad said 12 of those killed were militants. Israel said some of the dead were killed by rockets misfired from Gaza. No Israelis were killed.

    The violence had threatened to spiral into another all-out war but was contained because Gaza’s ruling Hamas group stayed on the sidelines, possibly because it fears Israeli reprisals and undoing economic understandings with Israel, including work permits for thousands of Gaza residents that bolster Hamas’s control over the coastal strip.

    Israel and Hamas have fought four wars since the group overran the territory in 2007. Hamas has a strong incentive to avoid more conflict, which has exacted a heavy toll on the impoverished territory’s 2.3 million Palestinian residents.

    The outburst of violence was a key test for Israel’s caretaker Prime Minister Yair Lapid, who lacks experience leading military operations.

    He unleashed the offensive less than three months before a general election in which he is campaigning to keep the job — and may have gained political ground with it.

    Yair Lapid
    Yair Lapid (Oded Balilty/AP)

    Israel began to reopen crossings into Gaza for humanitarian needs on Monday and said it would fully open them if calm is maintained.

    Fuel trucks were seen entering at the main cargo crossing headed for the power plant, which went offline on Saturday after Israel closed the crossings into Gaza last week.

    That added to misery at the height of summer heat in the territory, which is under a stifling Israeli-Egyptian blockade and suffers from a chronic power crisis that leaves residents with only a few hours of electricity a day.

    Life for hundreds of thousands of Israelis was disrupted during the violence. Israel’s Iron Dome missile defence system intercepted many of the rockets launched at Israel and no significant injuries were reported.

    Israel launched its operation with a strike on Friday on a leader of Islamic Jihad, saying there were “concrete threats” of an anti-tank missile attack against Israelis in response to the arrest last week of another senior Islamic Jihad member in the West Bank.

    Palestinians Israel
    Hamas police officers check a tanker truck as it is cleared to enter the Palestinian side of the Kerem Shalom cargo crossing (Adel Hana/AP)

    That arrest came after months of Israeli raids in the West Bank to round up suspects following a spate of Palestinian attacks against Israel.

    It killed another Islamic Jihad leader in a strike on Saturday.

    Both sides boasted of their successes. On Sunday, Islamic Jihad leader Ziad al-Nakhalah said the militant group remained strong, despite losing two of its leaders. “This is a victory for Islamic Jihad,” he said.

    Despite that claim, the group undoubtedly sustained a blow during the offensive. As well as losing the two leaders, it reduced its arsenal by firing hundreds of rockets.

    Israel said some of the deaths in Gaza were caused by errant militant rocket fire, including in the Jebaliya refugee camp, where six Palestinians were killed on Saturday. On Sunday, a projectile hit a home in the same area of Jebaliya, killing two men.

    Palestinians held Israel responsible for the Sunday attack, while Israel said it was investigating whether the area was struck by misfired rockets.

    Israel Palestinians
    Palestinians inspect their house which was hit by an Israeli air strike in Gaza City (Fatima Shbair/AP)

    The ceasefire contained a promise that Egypt would work for the release of two senior Islamic Jihad detainees held by Israel, but there were no guarantees this would happen. The weekend fighting is also bound to complicate Islamic Jihad’s relations with Hamas.

    A senior Israeli diplomatic official said the offensive was successful and had taken Islamic Jihad’s capabilities back “decades”, citing the loss of the two leaders and hits to the group’s rocket production and firing capabilities, among other blows.

    US President Joe Biden welcomed the ceasefire.

    “Over these last 72 hours, the United States has worked with officials from Israel, the Palestinian Authority, Egypt, Qatar, Jordan and others throughout the region to encourage a swift resolution to the conflict,” he said in a statement on Sunday.

    The Israeli army said militants in Gaza fired about 1,100 rockets toward Israel, with about 200 of them landing inside the Palestinian enclave. The army said its air defences had intercepted 380 of them, including two fired towards Jerusalem.

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