Gaza ceasefire holds after two-day flare-up

GAZA CITY: The Israel-Gaza border was quiet on Friday after an Egyptian-brokered truce ended a surge in violence that had shaken southern Israel and the Gaza Strip for two days. Palestinian political sources said agreement had been reached to end all rocket fire into Israel and air strikes on the Gaza Strip from around midnight on Thursday.
Thursday had seen extensive Israeli raids in retaliation for the launching of more than 180 rockets and mortar rounds by gunmen on Wednesday night.
Three Palestinians were killed in the Israeli strikes, including a mother and her 18-month-old daughter, while seven Israelis were wounded by rocket fire as hundreds took refuge in bomb shelters.
It was one of the most serious flare-ups since the 2014 Gaza war and followed months of escalating tensions.
Late on Thursday, an Israeli air raid flattened a five-storey building which hosted a cultural centre in Gaza City.
The Israeli security cabinet and the Hamas leadership met separately on Thursday, with the truce offer brokered by Egypt and the United Nations on the table.
Neither Israel nor Hamas officially confirmed any truce had gone into effect, although that has also been the case with previous informal arrangements. It would be the third such truce in a month.
Hamas and Israel have fought three wars since 2008.
Hugh Lovatt, Israel-Palestine fellow with the European Council on Foreign Relations, said the “increasingly frequent cycles of escalation and de-escalation” were similar to events before the previous wars.
“Unlike the run-up to past wars, there is already a sustained diplomatic push to hammer out a ceasefire,” he said, pointing to Egyptian and UN efforts and adding that neither Israel nor Hamas seem to desire a full-blown a conflict.
“Yet, their ability to avoid renewed war is becoming increasingly constrained with each cycle of violence.” With the ceasefire holding, organisers of the protests drove through streets of Gaza with loudspeakers, calling for a massive attendance.
Gazans have held weekly protests since March 30, some of which have become violent, to demand the right of return for Palestinian refugees. The Israeli army has killed at least 158 Palestinians during those protests.
“Despite the aggression on the Gaza Strip, our Palestinian people will continue our march of return and breaking the blockade until it achieves its goals,” said Hamas spokesman Hassem Qassem. — AFP