GAZA – With a cease-fire between Israel and Palestinian militants holding after nearly three days of violence, Gaza’s sole power plant resumed operations Monday and Israel began reopening crossings into the territory.
Israel also lifted security restrictions on southern Israeli communities after the Egyptian-mediated truce took effect late Sunday.
War-weary people in Gaza and Israel were left to pick up the pieces after another round of violence — the worst since an 11-day war between Israel and the territory's militant Hamas rulers last year.
Since Friday, Israeli aircraft had pummeled targets in Gaza, while the Iran-backed Palestinian Islamic Jihad militant group fired hundreds of rockets at Israel.
Over three days of fighting, 46 Palestinians were killed, including 16 children and four women, and 311 were wounded, the Palestinian Health Ministry said. Twelve of those killed were Islamic Jihad militants, one was from a smaller armed group, and two were Hamas-affiliated policemen who were not taking part in the fighting, according to the armed factions.
Israel estimated a total of 47 Palestinians were killed, including 14 killed by misfired Islamic Jihad rockets. It said that 20 fighters and seven civilians died in Israeli airstrikes and that it is still investigating six deaths.
No Israelis were killed or seriously wounded in the fighting.
The violence had threatened to spiral into another all-out war but was contained because Hamas stayed on the sidelines, possibly because it fears Israeli reprisals and an unraveling of economic understandings with Israel, including the issuing of Israeli work permits that provide a vital source of income for thousands of Gaza residents.
Israel and Hamas have fought four wars since the group overran the territory in 2007. The clashes have exacted a staggering toll on the impoverished territory’s 2.3 million Palestinian residents.
The latest violence may have bolstered the political fortunes of Israel’s caretaker prime minister, Yair Lapid, who lacked 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.
“All our goals were achieved,” Lapid said Monday. “The entire senior military command of Islamic Jihad in Gaza was successfully targeted within three days.”
Israel began to reopen crossings into Gaza for humanitarian needs and said it would fully open them if calm continued. Fuel trucks were seen entering the main cargo crossing and heading for the power plant, which shut down Saturday after Israel closed the crossings.
That added to the misery at the height of the summer heat in the territory, which is under an 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, even as the country's sophisticated Iron Dome missile defense system intercepted many of the rockets.
Israel launched its operation with a strike Friday on an Islamic Jihad commander, saying there were “concrete threats” of an anti-tank missile attack against Israelis in response to the arrest last week of a senior Islamic Jihad member in the occupied West Bank. That arrest came after months of Israeli raids in the West Bank following a spate of Palestinian attacks.
Israel killed another Islamic Jihad leader in a strike on Saturday.
Both sides boasted of their successes. Speaking to reporters in Tehran on Sunday, Islamic Jihad leader Ziad al-Nakhalah said the militant group remained strong, despite losing two commanders. “This is a victory for Islamic Jihad,” he said.
Despite that claim, the group undoubtedly sustained a blow. Beyond 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 seven Palestinians were killed Saturday. The army said the deaths of five Palestinians in Jebaliya were still under investigation, apparently referring to five children killed in an explosion in a cemetery on Sunday.
The cease-fire deal contained a promise that Egypt would work for the release of two senior Islamic Jihad detainees held by Israel. The weekend fighting is also bound to complicate Islamic Jihad’s relations with Hamas.
In the occupied West Bank on Monday, Israeli troops demolished the homes of two Palestinians suspected of carrying out a deadly attack against Israelis in the city of Elad in May. The soldiers faced a violent protest during the operation, the military said.
Tor Wennesland, the top U.N. Mideast envoy, told an emergency meeting of the U.N. Security Council that “the cease-fire is fragile” and any resumption of hostilities will have “devastating consequences” for Palestinians and Israelis and make any political progress elusive.
He condemned the Palestinian rocket fire while recognizing Israel's security concerns. He said any use of force “must be proportionate,” with “all feasible steps” taken to avoid civilian casualties.
The Israeli army said militants in Gaza fired about 1,100 rockets toward Israel, with about 200 landing inside the Palestinian enclave. The army said its air defenses intercepted 380, including two fired toward Jerusalem. The military did not specify what happened to the remainder, but they most likely fell in open areas or broke up in flight.
Islamic Jihad has fewer fighters and supporters than Hamas, and little is known about its arsenal. Both groups call for Israel's destruction, but have different priorities, with Hamas constrained by the demands of governing.
Over the past year, Israel and Hamas have reached tacit understandings based on trading calm for work permits and a slight easing of the border blockade, imposed by Israel and Egypt when Hamas overran the territory 15 years ago. Israel has issued 12,000 work permits to Gaza laborers and has held out the prospect of 2,000 more.
Goldenberg reported from Tel Aviv, Israel. Associated Press writer Edith M. Lederer at the United Nations contributed to this report.