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A cease-fire between Israel and Palestinian militants in Gaza appears to be holding

LEILA FADEL, HOST:

A cease-fire between Israel and Palestinian militants in Gaza appears to be holding. The agreement followed three days of Israeli airstrikes that killed 44 Palestinians, including children, in the blockaded Gaza Strip, according to officials there. There are no reported deaths on the Israeli side, but Israel says several Palestinian deaths were actually caused by militant rockets that fell short of their Israeli targets. Israel launched the airstrikes after it said at least 580 rockets were fired from Gaza. We're joined now by The Washington Post's Jerusalem bureau chief, Steve Hendrix. He's in Gaza now. Hi, Steve.

STEVE HENDRIX: Hi, Leila.

FADEL: So I know you just arrived in Gaza, but would you tell us what you're seeing so far?

HENDRIX: Yeah, I've just gotten in. I haven't been all over the enclave yet, but clearly there's been a lot of fighting here. There's evidence of fires in several places. There's damaged buildings. I know that something like 16 buildings were destroyed utterly. It's maybe the tragedy of Gaza that people have had - seen so many of these escalations here that they sort of rank them. And this isn't as bad as it was last year, when - 11-day war - but this has been a very brutal weekend for people living here.

FADEL: What triggered this latest violence?

HENDRIX: The immediate cause was the arrest early last week of a senior Islamic Jihad leader, not in Gaza, but in the West Bank, in the city of Jenin. There's been a series all summer long of Israeli troops raiding and arresting suspected terrorist cells across the West Bank. This was a senior leader, and, immediately, the Islamic Jihad group in Gaza threatened retaliation. So tensions have really ramped up very quickly. Israel sealed off access to Gaza. They closed a lot of roads in the surrounding areas. And then, by Friday - Friday afternoon - they launched what they called a preemptive strike because they had evidence, they said, that a major attack from Islamic Jihad was about to be launched.

FADEL: Now, Hamas - the group that runs Gaza - seems to have distanced itself from these rocket attacks. Why?

HENDRIX: Well, that definitely shows the factionalism within Gaza. Islamic Jihad is a rival to Hamas and a much smaller organization, and the two don't always get along. In this case, Hamas had a decision to make. It would have been a much larger escalation had they taken hand and begun launching their own rockets into Israel. They decided not to do that. It's easy to imagine that they're not sorry to see the leadership of this group be decimated.

FADEL: Now, in the past, as you mentioned, Israel has responded after the rocket fire from Gaza with what critics say is overwhelming, disproportionate strength. Does this signal a different approach by Israel - this latest round?

HENDRIX: It's hard to say. We're talking about different enemies, as it were. Last year, during the 11-day war, they were targeting Hamas assets, and those are distributed all over the enclave. Islamic Jihad is a smaller group, with a smaller number of facilities, training grounds, manufacturing plants. And yes, it was very, very targeted. I mean, obviously, there's a lot of destruction here, but nothing like sort of the carpet bombing that you could almost say that we saw a year ago.

FADEL: The Washington Post's Jerusalem bureau chief, Steve Hendrix. Thank you so much for your time.

HENDRIX: Thank you, Leila. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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