Israel reopened border crossings with Gaza on Monday, following an Egyptian-brokered ceasefire with the Islamic Jihad militant group that ended the most serious outbreak of fighting around the volatile Palestinian enclave in more than a year.
At least 44 people, including 15 children, were killed in 56 hours of violence that began when Israeli airstrikes hit a high-ranking Islamic Jihad commander. Israel said his action was a preemptive strike against a planned attack by the Iran-backed group.
Hundreds more people were injured and several houses were destroyed in the Gaza Strip. Palestinian militants fired more than 1,000 rockets into Israel, causing residents of southern areas and major cities, including Tel Aviv, to flee to shelters.
After the fighting was over, both sides sent a triumphant message.
“All of our targets were hit. The entire Islamic Jihad military high command in Gaza was successfully eliminated in three days,” Israeli Prime Minister Yair Lapid said in a televised statement.
In a press conference broadcast by pro-Iranian broadcaster Al Mayadeen after the ceasefire late on Sunday, Islamic Jihad leader Ziad al-Najala declared: “This is a victory.”
Israel, however, saw a significant degradation of Islamic Jihad’s capabilities.
“There is no doubt that Islamic Jihad received a heavy blow from which it will take time to recover,” an Israeli military official said, noting the loss of two top commanders, which he said will severely disrupt its ability to plan and carry out operations. . “We have not annihilated Islamic Jihad nor was that our goal.”
In addition to the two commanders, Israeli officials said some twenty fighters were killed in the strikes and large numbers of anti-tank weapons and rocket production and storage facilities were destroyed.
“I think they were surprised by our capabilities and by the level of our intelligence and our operational capabilities,” a senior Israeli diplomatic official told reporters.
A spokesman for Islamic Jihad in Gaza said the group may have suffered losses in its leadership and fighting force, but it had been able to impose conditions on Israel and maintain unity and cohesion.
“The enemy made the end of the Islamic Jihad group his battle goal, but such a dreamy and delusional goal failed,” he said. “We own the human element, the human miracle that can repair capacities, however humble they may be.”