GAZA: Hamas said on Saturday it had agreed a truce with Israel in the Gaza Strip, a day after clashes killed an Israeli soldier and four Palestinians along the border.
Israel’s army declined to comment on the reported ceasefire, but a spokeswoman said there was no known military activity in the area. There were no other reports of unrest by Saturday morning.
On Friday, Palestinian gunmen killed an Israeli soldier and the Israeli military launched dozens of strikes that killed four Palestinians, including three Hamas fighters. At least 120 Gazans were wounded.
“With Egyptian and United Nations efforts it has been agreed to return to the era of calm between (Israel) and Palestinian factions,” said Fawzi Barhoum, spokesman for the Hamas Islamist group that controls Gaza.
Israel’s government and army rarely comment on ceasefires in the enclave, but a military spokeswoman said civilian life should return to normal in areas next to Gaza. “No (special) instructions were given to the public,” she added.
The soldier was the first member of Israel’s army to be killed on the Gaza front since a 2014 war between Israel and Hamas, a military spokesman said.
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.
Weekly clashes at the Israel-Gaza border have kept tensions high for months. At least 140 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli forces during protests at the frontier held every week since March.
Protest organizers say the demonstrations aim to press demands such as for a right 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.