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Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 15 November 2018

Tense Gaza truce holds after first killing of Israeli soldier since 2014 war

Hamas announces ceasefire after a wave of deadly strikes across the enclave

A picture taken on July 20, 2018 shows a fireball exploding in Gaza City during Israeli bombardment. AFP
A picture taken on July 20, 2018 shows a fireball exploding in Gaza City during Israeli bombardment. AFP

A ceasefire between Israel and Hamas in Gaza brokered by Egypt and the United Nations was holding on Saturday after a wave of Israeli strikes in retaliation for the first killing of one of its soldiers since the 2014 summer war.

A Hamas spokesperson confirmed the truce in a tweet on Saturday. “With Egyptian and United Nations efforts it has been agreed to return to the era of calm between (Israel) and Palestinian factions,” Fawzi Barhoum wrote.

The Israeli government did not confirm the agreed cessation of hostilities and the military struck a Hamas observation point with tank fire east of Gaza City on Saturday morning without any casualties reported. But the military said that civilian life should return to normal in the communities near Gaza.

The ceasefire came after Israeli warplanes launched an intense bombardment on Hamas positions across the coastal enclave on Friday after a Palestinian sniper killed an Israeli soldier, the first Israeli death near the territory in almost four years.

During the flare-up which lasted several hours, the Israeli military said its jets and tanks hit 68 Hamas targets, and destroyed "buildings and infrastructures and revoked significant military and command and control capabilities".

Egyptian security officials and a diplomat from another unnamed state held contacts with Hamas and Israel in an effort to restore calm and prevent further deterioration, a Palestinian official told Reuters.

If confirmed, it would be the third ceasefire between Israel Islamist Hamas to be brokered by Egypt this year and the second truce to be agreed this week after a day-long flare up last Saturday.

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On Friday, UN envoy for the Middle East Peace Process, Nikolay Mladenov, tweeted: “Everyone in Gaza needs to step back from the brink. Not next week. Not tomorrow. Right NOW! Those who want to provoke Palestinians and Israelis into another war must not succeed.”

Both sides have sought to avoid a new conflict despite escalating tensions along the border fence where Israel has shot and killed more than 140 Palestinians who have rallied on a weekly basis against Israel’s 11-year siege of Gaza since March 30.

Protest organizers say they are demanding the right to return to lands lost to Israel in the 1948 war of its foundation and for an Israeli-Egyptian blockade to ease.

Israel says Hamas has been orchestrating the demonstrations, dubbed The Great March of Return, to provide cover for militants' cross-border attacks. Hamas denies this.

The surge in violence comes as Palestinian hopes for an independent state have dwindled and peace talks remain stalled. Gaza, home to 2 million people, most of whom depend on foreign aid, has been under Israeli economic sanctions for 12 years.