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Calm Returns To Gaza As Hamas And Israel Observe Fragile Ceasefire

REUTERS/Amir Cohen

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Will Racke Immigration and Foreign Policy Reporter

A tenuous ceasefire between Hamas and Israel brought temporary calm to the Gaza Strip on Wednesday, a day after Palestinian militants launched a barrage of rockets that was answered with Israeli airstrikes.

Talk of pause in hostilities surfaced Wednesday morning, even as Palestinian fighters continued to fire rockets and Israeli war planes retaliated by striking at least 25 targets belonging to Hamas.

The fighting drew to a close by early afternoon, though it was unclear how long the peace would last. Hamas, along with Palestinian Islamic Jihad, said it had agreed to the ceasefire with the help of Egyptian intermediaries.

“There was a lot of mediation in the past hours,” Khalil al-Hayya, a senior Hamas official, said in a statement, according to the Washington Post.

Israeli defense officials said they had not agreed to an official ceasefire with Hamas, but would honor an Egypt-brokered deal if Palestinian militants stopped firing rockets into Israel, the newspaper Haaretz reported.

The latest round of violence began Tuesday, when Palestinian militants launched a barrage of at least 70 rockets and mortar rounds at Israeli communities close to the Gaza Strip. Some were shot down by Israel’s Iron Dome interceptor system and others landed in empty fields. One exploded in the yard of a kindergarten before it was due to open for the day, the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) said. (RELATED: Israel Responds To Hamas Mortar Barrage With Airstrikes In Gaza Strip)

Israel responded with airstrikes on at least 60 militant sites in Gaza, including a cross-border tunnel controlled by Hamas and Islamic Jihad — the two primary militant groups in the Palestinian enclave. It was the heaviest exchange of fire between Hamas and Israel since a 2014 war.

In a rare joint statement, Hamas and Islamic Jihad claimed shared responsibility for Tuesday’s rocket and mortar attacks, saying they were a response to previous Israeli strikes on their positions. It was the first time in more than three years Hamas has publicly acknowledged launching rocket attacks out of Gaza.

The battle comes after weeks of violent demonstrations on the Gaza border. Over 100 Palestinian protesters, some unarmed civilians and other Hamas operatives, have been killed by IDF troops since mid-May. Israel says it has opened fire on people attacking Israeli troops or attempting to breach a security fence under cover of protests, but human rights groups have accused it of using disproportionate force.

The protests have centered around the blockade of Gaza, which Israel and Egypt imposed in 2007 after Hamas took over governance in the troubled Palestinian territory. Palestinians are also frustrated over their dimming prospects for an independent state, as peace talks have been on hold since 2014 and Israel continues to build settlements in the West Bank.

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