Gaza calm as truce deal takes hold


Calm returned to Gaza on Thursday as a truce between Israel and Hamas took hold after a bloody 24 hours of violence that left four Palestinians dead and two Thai workers wounded in Israel.
With the Eid al-Adha festival due to start on Friday, Gazans were enjoying a quiet day of preparation without air strikes, and Israelis were making the most of the respite in rocket fire.
Following a quiet night in which there were no reports of Israeli raids or militant rocket fire on southern Israel, schools reopened in southern Israel and Palestinians went back to work.
During the morning, the military reported that one rocket had landed in an open area without causing injuries or damage, but had no knowledge of three rockets being fired shortly after dawn, as was claimed in a statement by the Gaza-based Mujahedeen Brigades. And the Erez crossing between Israel and Gaza was reopened, as was the Hamas-run checkpoint leading to the border in the northern Gaza town of Beit Hanun, officials said.
Late on Wednesday, Israeli and Palestinian officials told AFP that an Egyptian-brokered ceasefire would go into effect at midnight (2200 GMT).
The agreement was aimed at ending an eruption of bloodshed, which saw Israeli air strikes kill four militants and armed groups firing more than 70 rockets and mortars across the border, seriously wounding two Thai workers.
Among those firing on Israel was the armed wing of Gaza’s ruling Islamist Hamas movement — the Ezzedine al-Qassam Brigades — which said three of the dead were its own militants. A fourth man was from the Popular Resistance Committees (PRC), which also claimed to have fired rockets at Israel.
The surge in violence began on Tuesday evening, shortly after a top-level state visit to Gaza by the Qatari emir to inaugurate a multi-million dollar project to rebuild the impoverished Palestinian enclave. During the evening, militants fired six rockets at Israel and in response Israeli aircraft killed two Hamas militants in raids on northern Gaza, prompting a further wave of rocket fire.
An early-morning Israeli raid near southern city of Rafah Wednesday killed a third militant — from the PRC — and another Hamas militant who was hurt in Tuesday night’s strikes died of his injuries later, medics said.
“Hamas will receive its punishment for what has happened here,” Israeli Defence Minister Ehud Barak said Wednesday, and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu also warned that any continuation of rocket fire would prompt a “much more extensive” Israeli response.
Gaza’s Hamas government issued a statement “condemning the Zionist aggression against the Gaza Strip,” and warning of its consequences.