Efforts to reach ceasefire deal in Gaza underway as death toll rises to 31

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Senior Israeli officials said Sunday that Israel is working with Egypt and the UN on a comprehensive ceasefire deal in Gaza, as the death toll from the fighting climbed to more than 30.

Why it matters: Israel feels it has achieved the objectives of the operation — including killing two Islamic Jihad commanders — and wants to end it before the situation on the ground further deteriorates and draws Hamas into the fighting, the officials said.

  • Israeli Prime Minister Yair Lapid said in a meeting with mayors of towns close to Gaza on Sunday that the operation has achieved its goals and there is no point in continuing it.

Behind the scenes: Egyptian intelligence officials and UN diplomats started the meditation efforts for a humanitarian ceasefire in Gaza on Saturday night, Israeli officials and Western diplomats told Axios.

  • They were close to getting a deal overnight for a ceasefire that would start at 8am local time on Sunday. But the talks were derailed when Israel received information that the Islamic Jihad was planning another round of attacks in the morning hours. This became evident several hours later when the Islamic Jihad fired several rockets toward Jerusalem.
  • Israeli officials said the mediation efforts resumed on Sunday morning, but Israel made clear that it is not interested in only a humanitarian ceasefire, but wants a comprehensive one.

Tareq Silmi, the spokesperson for the Islamic Jihad’s political wing, initially said the group was not negotiating a ceasefire and would avenge the death of its commanders. But he later said that there were efforts underway by Egypt to end the fighting and restore calm.

  • Ismail Haniya, the head of Hamas’ political bureau, said the organization is following the ceasefire efforts.
  • Hamas, which controls Gaza, is still not taking part in the fighting, and Western diplomats who spoke with Hamas officials said the organization wants a ceasefire as soon as possible.

State of play: A source with direct knowledge of the negotiations told Axios that officials “are heading towards a ceasefire in Gaza,” but the exact time hasn’t been finalized yet.

The big picture: Several children and women were among the 31 Palestinians who have been killed since the fighting began on Friday. Some were killed by Israeli airstrikes, while Israel says others were killed by failed Islamic Jihad rockets that landed in Gaza.

  • Of the more than 600 rockets fired by Islamic Jihad from Gaza, about 20-30% landed inside the Gaza Strip, the Israeli military said.
  • About 97% of the rockets that crossed into Israel were intercepted by the Iron Dome system, the IDF said.

Driving the news: During a meeting of the Israeli security cabinet on Saturday night, Shin Bet director Ronen Bar told the ministers that Islamic Jihad got hit hard in Gaza and now was the time to end to the operation, two ministers who attended the meeting told Axios.

  • The ministers added that Bar said Israel needed to end the operation to avoid potential mistakes that could lead to a wider conflict that Israel does not want.
  • The Shin Bet director told the ministers that the Gaza operation achieved more objectives than it was intended to and will influence other arenas in the region.
  • He claimed the operation managed to create a separation between Hamas and Islamic Jihad, which is an Israeli strategic goal, the ministers said.
  • Senior Israeli officials said that Bar’s recommendation represented the overall thinking of all cabinet ministers and security officials in the meeting.
  • “Everybody thinks we should end the operation but the conditions for this haven’t matured yet,” a senior Israeli official said.

This is a developing story. Please check back for updates.

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