A ceasefire between Israel and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad took effect late Sunday in a bid to end nearly three days of violence, with tense hours expected ahead to see if the fragile truce holds.
The Egyptian-brokered truce took effect at 11:30pm, with militant rockets and Israeli retaliatory strikes continued in the minutes leading up to the beginning of the truce.
Just minutes before the ceasefire was set to begin, Islamic Jihad fired rockets towards the southern city of Be'er Sheva as well as communities along the border, while the IDF responded by striking rocket stores, launch pads and other PIJ targets in the Gaza Strip.
Furthermore, eight minutes after the truce deadline, the Gaza faction fired rockets at Sderot and other communities along the border.
Israeli officials and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad both confirmed a ceasefire was to come into effect at 11:30 pm, following indirect talks between the two warring sides mediated by Egypt.
Head of Public Diplomacy Lior Hayat confirmed the agreement between the sides and said that Israel thanked Egypt for their efforts to bring about an end to the fighting. "We maintain the right to respond forcefully to any violation of the ceasefire," Hayat said in a statement. "We will not allow any disruption of the lives of residents," he said.
The Islamist group ignored an earlier deadline of 8am agreed with Egyptian negotiators, instead firing dozens of rockets as far as Tel Aviv in a massive salvo.
The fighting began with Israel's killing of a senior Islamic Jihad commander, Tayseer al-Jabari, on Friday, kickstarting an operation dubbed "Breaking Dawn," that Israel said was meant to prevent an imminent attack.
Palestinian health officials said that since the Israeli offensive began, 44 people were killed and 360 were wounded. Israel says some of the Palestinians fell victims to errant rocket fire by the Islamic Jihad.
According to reports in Middle Eastern media outlets, the Islamist faction stood firm on its demands that two of its West Bank operatives be released from Israeli custody.
The PIJ wanted its commander Bassam al Saadi, who was arrested last week in West Bank, be freed and that Khalil Awawdeh, who is under administrative detention, be released as well.
According to some reports, the Egyptian negotiators said they would take up the cause and work towards the release of both men, clearing the way for a truce to come into effect later on Sunday.
Earlier in the evening, the Al Jazeera network also reported that the Islamic Jihad said it would not agree to a ceasefire unless its demands are met.
"There is no discourse around ceasefire and the conflict continues," said the spokesman for Islamic Jihad.
"Israel will pay the price for its crimes," the statement continued. "The elimination of senior members of our military wing will not dissuade us from our goals. The conflict will continue until Israel is deterred and stops its crimes against the Palestinians."
An hour later, the Lebanese satellite television channel Al Mayadeen, affiliated with the Iran-backed Hezbollah group, said that "a ceasefire was agreed upon in Gaza."
Defense Minister Benny Gantz instructed the military to prepare for the fighting in Gaza to continue in case the terror group does not respect its end of the deal.
Earlier, Prime Minister Yair Lapid convened a meeting with Gantz and security chiefs to discuss the situation around the Gaza border.
First published: 21:51, 08.07.22