Israel, Islamic Jihad begin 'fragile' Gaza truce as at least 44 Palestinians killed
Israel and Islamic Jihad militants on Sunday began a precarious Egyptian-brokered truce hoped to end three days of intense bombing in the besieged Gaza Strip that has left at least 44 Palestinians dead, including 15 children.
The truce, which officially started at 11:30 pm (2030 GMT), aims to stem the worst bombings in Gaza since an 11-day Israeli aerial assault last year devastated the Palestinian coastal territory.
But a flurry of strikes and rocket attacks took place in the run-up to the truce, with sirens sounding in southern Israel moments before and after the deadline.
In a statement sent three minutes after the ceasefire began, Israel's army said that "in response to rockets fired toward Israeli territory, the (military) is currently striking a wide range of targets" belonging to Islamic Jihad in Gaza.
In a subsequent statement, the army said its "last" strikes took place at 11:25 pm.
While both sides had agreed to the truce, each had warned the other that it would respond with force to any violence.
"The situation is still very fragile, and I urge all parties to observe the ceasefire," UN Middle East peace envoy Tor Wennesland said in a statement.
Since Friday, Israel has carried out heavy aerial and artillery bombardment of Islamic Jihad positions in Gaza, with the militants firing hundreds of rockets in retaliation.
Buildings in Gaza have been reduced to rubble, while Israelis have been forced to shelter from a barrage of rockets.
Israeli Prime Minister Yair Lapid's office late Sunday thanked "Egypt for its efforts" as it agreed to the truce, but said it that "if the ceasefire is violated", Israel "maintains the right to respond strongly".
Islamic Jihad member Mohammad al-Hindi had already confirmed the militants had accepted the truce, but the group added in a statement that it too "reserves the right to respond" to any aggression.
In addition to the 44 people killed including 15 children, the Gaza health ministry said 360 people had been wounded in the Palestinian enclave, which is run by the Islamist group Hamas.
Islamic Jihad's Hindi said the ceasefire deal "contains Egypt's commitment to work towards the release of two prisoners".
The pair were named as Bassam al-Saadi, a senior figure in the group's political wing who was recently arrested in the occupied West Bank, and Khalil Awawdeh, a militant also in Israeli detention.