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Israel and Palestinian Islamic Jihad seal fragile ceasefire

The agreement was brokered by Egypt after nearly three days of fighting
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AP/HATEM MOUSSA  -   Rockets fired from the Gaza Strip into Israel

Israel and Palestinian Islamic Jihad reached a ceasefire mediated by Egypt that has put an end to clashes that have lasted almost three days and have left more than 40 Palestinians dead, including 15 children, and more than 360 wounded, as well as numerous buildings destroyed in the Gaza Strip.

Violence flared up in the Gaza Strip over the weekend due to the ongoing confrontation between Palestinians and Israel. Israeli shelling left around 44 people dead in the last three days, including 15 children and four women, according to the Gaza Ministry of Health. 

Meanwhile, Palestinian Islamic Jihad said nine of the dead are Palestinian Islamic Jihad fighters, including the two top commanders of its armed wing, Taysir al-Jabari and Khaled Mansour.

On the Israeli side, no deaths were reported and around 40 light injuries were reported. 

Despite the ceasefire, which came into effect late Sunday night, there were some initial skirmishes, including an Israeli offensive, which was justified by an earlier Palestinian attack, according to Israeli sources. Faced with this Israeli attack, Islamic Jihad responded by firing rockets. 

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AFP/JACK GUEZ - An Israeli missile is launched from the Iron Dome defence missile system, designed to intercept and destroy incoming short-range rockets and artillery shells, in the Israeli city of Ashdod

In any case, a fragile truce persists for the time being, and Israel is prepared for it to be broken, as announced by its Defence Ministry. 

Egypt mediated the establishment of this truce between Israelis and Palestinians by sending an Egyptian delegation to the Strip, and an official note from the Israeli Prime Minister's Office thanked the North African country for its efforts to mediate the truce. However, the Israeli state also warned that if the truce was violated it retained "the right to respond with force".

The ceasefire comes almost three days after the latest escalation of violence began as Israel launched pre-emptive strikes against Islamic Jihad targets in Gaza. Yair Lapid, the Israeli prime minister, described this weekend's offensive as a "precise counter-terrorist operation to prevent an immediate real threat from Palestinian Islamic Jihad, a tentacle of Iran, an operation aimed at killing innocent Israeli citizens".

Among Cairo's mediation efforts were talks for the release of an Islamic Jihad militant captured by Israel six days ago and guarantees that a Palestinian prisoner on hunger strike in an Israeli jail would be treated in hospital. 

For its part, Hamas, which rules the Gaza Strip and stayed out of the fighting, said the Israeli operation represented a "new stage in the struggle for Palestinian freedom against the Israeli occupation". The organisation's decision not to take part was striking given that Hamas has greater weapons power than Islamic Jihad. 

During the three days of armed clashes, Islamic Jihad fired more than 930 rockets into Israeli territory from Gaza, according to the Israeli army, which said the vast majority landed in unpopulated areas or were neutralised by the Iron Dome air defence system. The projectiles launched by Islamic Jihad were short-range, with the exception of a few aimed at Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. 

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AFP/JALAA MAREY - A battery of Israel's Iron Dome, designed to intercept and destroy incoming short-range rockets and artillery shells, has been installed at the site of an Israeli military operation.

Israeli bombardment targeted 160 targets allegedly belonging to the Islamic Jihad in Palestine. These included facilities allegedly manufacturing and storing weapons, rocket launching sites and a network of tunnels allegedly used by the group, as reported by EFE news agency. 

The Gaza Strip area continues to suffer a complicated humanitarian situation due to the violence in the area and the continuing blockade of the Strip by Israel, a situation that causes 2.3 million people to live in very difficult conditions. 

In fact, one of the conditions of the ceasefire is to ease the Israeli blockade of the Gaza Strip. In the coming hours it will be seen how this truce evolves and whether there are no renewed episodes of tension that could aggravate the situation in the Palestinian area and in the Middle East region in general.