Israel and Gaza militants agree to end fierce flare-up of fighting

Frederick Owens
July 15, 2018

Hamas on Saturday said the barrage of rockets and mortar shells into Israeli territory overnight was sacked by the "resistance" to "stop Israeli escalation". There were no immediate reports of casualties.

"The focus of the attack is a wide-scale strike of the Hamas Battalion HQ in Beit Lahia, which includes urban warfare training facilities, weapon storage warehouse, training compounds, command centers, offices and more", the IDF said in a statement.

Smoke raises in the background following an Israeli airstrike hits a governmental building in Gaza City, Saturday, July 14, 2018.

The attacks come amid an escalation of violence in the region in recent months.

In Israel, air raid sirens sent people rushing to shelters in areas surrounding the Gaza Strip as rockets and mortars were fired from the Palestinian enclave at nearby communities.

Israel and Gaza militant groups agreed a ceasefire on Saturday, a Palestinian official said, after Israel launched dozens of air strikes against the Palestinian enclave's ruling Hamas group and gunmen fired more than 100 rockets across the border.

The surge in violence followed mounting public criticism of Netanyahu over failure to counter a new Palestinian tactic: incendiary kites and balloons launched from Gaza that have burned crops and scrubland in southern Israel.

Some of the projectiles were intercepted by Israel's Iron Dome system, but police said three people had been wounded in the southern town of Sderot.

The majority of those killed were involved in protests and clashes but others were seeking to breach or damage the border fence.

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Later the military said an Israeli officer was moderately wounded by a grenade thrown at him.

Al Jazeera's Bernard Smith, reporting from Gaza city, said that a house in Khan Younis belonging to a commander of the al-Quds Brigade, the armed wing of the Islamic Jihad, was hit in one of the strikes, causing two injuries.

Hamas denies this and its spokesman Fawzi Barhoum blamed Israel on Saturday for the escalation.

On Saturday, the Hamas-run health ministry in Gaza announced that a 19-year-old succumbed to his wounds sustained at the clashes a day earlier.

Gaza's health ministry said Saturday that a 20-year-old struck by gunfire Friday during the protests in the southern Gaza Strip had also died of his wounds.

Mr Netanyahu said: "The IDF has struck Hamas with the hardest blow since Operation Protective Edge and we will increase the strength of our attacks as necessary".

Molotov cocktails, flaming tyres and stones were also hurled in the direction of its soldiers, according to the Israeli army.

Over 130, mostly unarmed, Palestinians have been killed by Israeli fire since protests began on March 30.

The IDF said aircraft had attacked "an offensive terror tunnel in the southern Gaza Strip, in addition to several terror sites in military compounds throughout the Gaza Strip, among them complexes used to prepare arson terror attacks and a Hamas terror organization training facility". A number landed within the fences of communities in southern Israel.

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