Israel and Palestinians agree ceasefire following days of Gaza bombardment
The third day of Israel’s assault on Gaza - which has so far killed 44 Palestinians, including 15 children, and injured hundreds more - has ended with an Egypt-brokered ceasefire between Israel and Palestinian factions.
The ceasefire came into effect at 11:30pm local time (8:30pm GMT) on Sunday. Both Israel and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) movement, the main target of Israel in this round of fighting, have confirmed the ceasefire and claimed victory.
According to the PIJ chief Ziyad Nakhla, the group came out on top after Israel failed to destroy its capabilities as it promised it would do. He also said the ceasefire was conditioned on the release of two PIJ officials arrested in the occupied West Bank by Israel.
Nakhla, speaking from Iran where he is visiting, added that if the two men were not released soon, fighting would be resumed.
He said Khalil Awawdeh, who has been on hunger strike for more than 145 days protesting against his administrative detention by Israel, would be transferred to the hospital on Monday and go to his home from there. The other prisoner is Bassam al-Saadi, whose arrest last week in Jenin sparked tensions that led to the violence.
In Israel, Prime Minister Yair Lapid thanked Egypt for its role in facilitating the truce deal, adding that "if the ceasefire is violated, the State of Israel maintains the right to respond strongly".
The caretaker premier, who is set to run for general elections in November, had told southern municipal leaders earlier that Israel had achieved its goals in the three-day operation.
Air strike at cemetery
Hours before the ceasefire came into force, a string of suspected Israeli air strikes across the Gaza Strip killed nine Palestinian children and wounded many others.
In one blast, five boys aged between five years old and 14, were killed while they sat next to their grandfather's grave in the Falluja cemetery in northern Gaza, according to eyewitness Mohammad Sami.
"I was watching the boys after they bought something from the grocery store and then went to sit by the grave," Sami told Middle East Eye.
Four of the boys were cousins, and the fifth was their friend.
According to Sami, their names were Jameel Nejm Nejm, four or five years old, Mohamad Salah Nejm, seven or eight, Jameel Ihab Nejm, 14, Hamed Haidar Nejm, 14 or 16, and Nazmi Abu Karsh.
"They come to sit here every day. Every day," Sami said. "This is a safe area, they are used to being here."
In another air strike, a civilian car was hit, killing at least one person.
Yet another strike killed three children, all siblings, from the al-Nabahin family, according to the Palestinian ministry of health.
Meanwhile, Palestinian rockets fired from Gaza targeted Ben Gurion international airport, near Tel Aviv, with at least two missiles intercepted by the Iron Dome air defence system, according to Israeli media.
Planes heading to Ben Gurion airport were asked to wait before landing and those set for departure were halted and passengers asked to disembark.
There were no reports of any damage or injuries.
And a barrage of Palestinian rockets was fired towards various Israeli cities on Sunday evening, with sirens sounded in the central cities of Tel Aviv, Rishon Letzion, Bat Yam, Holon, Ramle and Lydd (Lod), as well as the southern cities of Ashkelon and Ashdod.
Only three people had been lightly wounded in Israel by the shrapnel of Palestinian rockets since Friday, according to Israeli emergency services.
Earlier in the day, funerals had been held for Palestinians killed late on Saturday, when Israeli air strikes that hit two densely populated areas in the Gaza Strip left at least 14 people dead.
Monira Nofal, the aunt of Khalil Abu Hamada, 19, was still in shock after the death of her nephew, who was killed along with five others, including four children, in a suspected Israeli attack on Jabalia camp, north of the Gaza Strip.
"He was his parents' only child, they had him after trying to have a baby for more than 12 years," Nofal told MEE.
Israel denied being behind the air strike, but Palestinian sources say it could not have come from anywhere else.
Abu Hamada's father had been preparing a new apartment for the 19-year-old to help him get married. He had gone outside his home late on Saturday to check a problem with his father's car, parked outside the house when the shell hit, Nofal said.
"He was was good boy, spoiled and beautiful, and everyone loved him," she added.
Elsewhere, rescue workers continued their work to pull out bodies trapped under the rubble in Rafah city, in the south of the Gaza strip, where another Israeli air strike killed at least eight people, including a 14-year-old boy.
Adeeb Ahmad, an eyewitness to the attack, told MEE the attack came with no warnings.
"The house was hit without any prior notice," Ahmad said. "Homes are overcrowded here, housing seven to eight people each, and they are so close to each other, so when one house is hit several houses around it are impacted.
"This arrogant enemy deepens its crimes against our people."
Earlier on Sunday, the PIJ and Hamas condemned the assassination of Khalid Mansour, commander of the southern division in Gaza of the al-Quds Brigades (Saraya al-Quds), the military wing of the PIJ.
Mansour was killed in an air strike that hit an overcrowded area in Rafah city, in the south of the Gaza Strip, late on Saturday. At least seven people were killed in the attack, including two other PIJ fighters, Ziad Ahmed al-Mdalal and Rafat Saleh Sheikh al-Eid, as well as a 14-year-old child and two women.
'While we mourn the dead, we confirm that their death will not go in vain'
- Palestinian Islamic Jihad movement
"The Islamic Jihad movement in Palestine and its military arm, Saraya al-Quds, mourn the martyrdom of the fallen fighters and civilians who were killed in a violent Zionist aggression that targeted a residential area in the al-Sha'ut camp in the city of Rafah," the group said in a statement.
"While we mourn the dead, we confirm that their death will not go in vain and that our fighters will not let their blood dry before they attack the enemy's settlements with our rockets," it said.
The Izz al-Din al-Qassam Brigades, the armed wing of Hamas, issued a similar statement mourning Khalid Mansour and Taiseer al-Jabari, head of the northern division of al-Quds Brigades, who was killed on Friday.
Khalid Mansour was the second high-ranking Saraya al-Quds commander to be killed by Israel in the operation, after it had assassinated Taiseer al-Jabari, head of the northern division of brigades, on Friday.
Al-Aqsa Mosque stormed
Also on Sunday morning, scores of Israeli ultra-nationalists, including settlers, stormed Al-Aqsa Mosque in occupied East Jerusalem.
Protected by heavily armed Israeli forces, the storming began at around 7am local time and continued for three hours, as Israelis marked the Jewish holiday of Tisha B'av.
During the tours in the courtyards of the mosque, settlers performed religious prayers and raised the Israeli flag, in contravention of long-standing agreements on the site.
According to local Palestinian media, at least 1,700 Israelis had stormed the site in the morning.
Small groups of Muslim worshippers who were inside the mosque during the raids were assaulted by Israeli forces.
Outside the mosque, located in Jerusalem's ancient Old City, skirmishes occurred between Israeli ultra-nationalists and Palestinian residents.
Some Israeli activists were seen chanting anti-Muslim slogans, such as "Mohammed is Dead", referring to Islam's prophet.