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Israel, Hamas Agree on Truce After Another Bout of Fighting

22 Jul 2018 5:18 pm
By Felicia Schwartz 

TEL AVIV -- A fragile cease-fire between Israel and Gaza ruler Hamas held over the weekend, after an Israeli soldier and three members of the militant group were killed in a round of fighting on Friday.

A fourth Palestinian was also killed Friday by Israeli security forces during one of the weekly demonstrations at the Israeli-Gaza border.

The truce, which came after Israel carried out a wide-scale attack on militant targets inside the Gaza Strip late on Friday, eased immediate concerns of an escalation of the conflict.

Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman said Sunday that if Hamas continued to refrain from launching flaming kites and balloons, Israel would on Tuesday lift the severe restrictions it imposed earlier this month on Gaza's only commercial crossing.

"Residents of Gaza must understand that as long as there are incendiary balloons and fires on our side, life on their side will not return to its normal routine," Mr. Lieberman said while visiting the crossing, Kerem Shalom.

"The key is quiet and calm and zero incendiary balloons, zero friction on the border and zero rockets," he added.

Israel has said it wants Hamas to stop launching flaming kites and balloons, which have caused hundreds of fires once they descend onto Israeli territory. It also has demanded an end to rocket and mortar fire from the Palestinian territory and weekly violent protests at the border. It restricted access through the crossing earlier this month, allowing only food, medicines and some fuel to pass through it, as part of an effort to pressure Hamas to change course.

Hamas on Friday killed an Israeli soldier, the first to die in combat near the Gaza border since the 2014 war. In response, Israel killed three Hamas members in a massive response that included airstrikes and tank fire. Gaza's ministry of health said other people were injured without giving further details on the number of casualties.

Early Saturday, Hamas announced it had agreed with Israel, via Egypt and the United Nations, to restore calm. Israel's military hasn't commented directly on the truce, but has indicated it would respond to calm with calm. The weekend's cease-fire, the second this month, came a week after some of the most intense fighting on the border since the 2014 war.

Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Israel could resume targeting Hamas again if it deemed the actions necessary. "At the end of the week we hit Hamas very hard and if it's needed, we'll hit them sevenfold," he said in a video statement released Sunday.

The U.N., meanwhile, warned on Sunday that Israel's restrictions on the Kerem Shalom crossing had begun to take dire effect on basic services in the Gaza Strip.

"At least one hospital has been forced to shut down for a few hours, and services are being dramatically reduced at others," said Jamie McGoldrick, the U.N.'s humanitarian coordinator in the Palestinian territories.

"Given ongoing blackouts of about 20 hours a day, if fuel does not come in immediately, people's lives will be at stake, with the most vulnerable patients, like cardiac patients, those on dialysis, and newborns in intensive care, at highest risk," Mr. McGoldrick said.

Since March, Palestinians have regularly protested at the fence dividing Gaza from Israel, calling for an end to Israel's blockade and to be allowed to return to the land from which they fled during the 1948 war with Israel.

More than 140 Palestinians have been killed, including the one on Friday, and thousands injured in the violent border clashes with Israel's military during the weekly demonstrations. Some protesters have charged the fence, rolling burning tires and firing at Israeli forces. They have also thrown Molotov cocktails and flown flaming kites.

Israel maintains many of those killed were Hamas militants and says its security concerns necessitate its blockade of Gaza. Palestinian officials say many of the protesters are unarmed.

Before the cease-fire took effect, Israel's military on Saturday said it hit more than 60 Hamas targets late into the night, including what it said were three Hamas battalion headquarters.

Militants also fired three rockets from Gaza into Israel on Friday, Israel's military said, including two that were intercepted by the country's Iron Dome air-defense system.

--Abu Bakr Bashir in Cairo and Dov Lieber in Tel Aviv contributed to this article

Write to Felicia Schwartz at Felicia.Schwartz@wsj.com

(END) Dow Jones Newswires

July 22, 2018 13:18 ET (17:18 GMT)

Copyright (c) 2018 Dow Jones & Company, Inc.
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