A ceasefire between Israel and Palestinian militants took effect late last night in a bid to end nearly three days of violence that has killed dozens of Palestinians.
Egyptian officials had worked to bring the sides to an agreement after the flare-up of fighting that saw Israeli aircraft pound targets in Gaza and militants fire hundreds of rockets that reached deep into Israel.
Rocket fire and airstrikes continued until the scheduled start of the truce at 11.30 (local time).
More than 40 Palestinians were killed, including 15 children and four women, as Israel targeted the militant group Islamic Jihad in what it said was a pre-emptive campaign. Israel said errant Gaza rockets were to blame for some of the deaths.
Israel confirmed the ceasefire agreement, but said it would respond if it was violated.
Since Friday, Israeli aircraft have pummelled targets in Gaza, while the Iran-backed Palestinian Jihad militant group has fired hundreds of rockets at Israel in response.
The risk of the cross-border fighting turning into a full-fledged war remained as long as no truce was reached. Israel says some of the dead were killed by misfired rockets.
Gaza’s ruling Hamas group remained on the sidelines, possibly because it fears Israeli reprisals and undoing economic understandings with Israel, including Israeli work permits for thousands of Gaza residents, that bolster its control.
Israel launched its operation with a strike on Friday on a leader of the Islamic Jihad, and followed up on Saturday with another targeted strike on a second prominent leader.
The second Islamic Jihad commander, Khaled Mansour, was killed in an airstrike on an apartment building in the Rafah refugee camp in southern Gaza late Saturday, which also killed two other militants and five civilians.
Mansour, the Islamic Jihad commander for southern Gaza, was in the apartment of a member of the group when the missile struck, flattening the three-storey building and badly damaging nearby houses.
“Suddenly, without warning, the house next to us was bombed and everything became black and dusty with smoke in the blink of an eye,” said Wissam Jouda, who lives next to the targeted building.
Ahmed al-Qaissi, another neighbour, said his wife and son were among the wounded, suffering shrapnel injuries.
To make way for rescue workers, al-Qaissi agreed to have part of his house demolished.
As a funeral for Mansour began in the Gaza Strip yesterday, the Israeli military said it was striking suspected “Islamic Jihad rocket launch posts”. Smoke could be seen from the strikes as thumps from their explosions rattled Gaza.
Israeli air strikes and rocket fire followed for hours as sirens wailed in central Israel.
As the sunset call to prayer sounded in Gaza, sirens wailed as far north as Tel Aviv.
Israel says some of the deaths during this round were caused by errant rocket fire, including one incident in the Jebaliya refugee camp in northern Gaza in which six Palestinians were killed on Saturday. Yesterday, a projectile hit a home in the same area of Jebaliya, killing two men. Palestinians held Israel responsible, while Israel said it was investigating whether the area was struck by an errant rocket.
Israel’s Defence Ministry said mortars fired from Gaza hit the Erez border crossing into Israel, used by thousands of Gazans daily. The mortars damaged the roof and shrapnel hit the hall’s entrance, the ministry said.