Calm returns after most severe Israel-Gaza flare-up in years

Calm returns after most severe Israel-Gaza flare-up in years

The exchange of fire raised the possibility of yet another war in the beleaguered Palestinian enclave run by Islamist movement Hamas, which would be the fourth since 2008.

The Israeli military struck dozens of militant sites in Gaza overnight as rocket fire continued toward southern Israeli communities into early Wednesday morning, setting off air raid sirens in the area throughout the night. There were no reports of casualties in Gaza.

Khalil al-Hayya, a senior Hamas official, said Egyptian mediators intervened "after the resistance succeeded in warding off the aggression".

Israeli Cabinet minister Arieh Deri told Israel's Army Radio that he expected calm to be restored. Gaza's Hamas rulers say they have agreed to a cease-fire with Israel. One mortar shell landed in a kindergarten shortly before it opened, wounding one person. No children were present at the time.

Kuwait, a non-permanent council member representing Arab countries, circulated a draft resolution calling "for the consideration of measures to guarantee the safety and protection of the Palestinian civilian population".

"When they test us they pay immediately and if they continue to test us then they will pay far more", Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said at a memorial service in Tel Aviv. It said some of the mortars fired were supplied by Iran. He said militant groups in Gaza will commit to the ceasefire as long as Israel does.

By late Tuesday, Israeli aircraft had hit 55 facilities belonging to militant groups in Gaza, including a cross-border tunnel under construction, in response to the Palestinian barrages, the military said. In addition, the vast majority of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad's (PIJ) naval force compounds were destroyed.

Both Hamas and its ally Islamic Jihad are inspired by and closely coordinate with Tehran. Israel drew worldwide condemnation for its use of deadly force against mass demonstrations by Gaza Palestinians.

Yesterday's incidents followed weeks of deadly demonstrations and clashes along the Gaza-Israel border, beginning on March 30.

Hamas initially billed the weekly border protests as a call to break through the fence and return to homes that were lost 70 years ago during the war surrounding Israel's establishment. They peaked on May 14, when at least 61 Palestinians were killed in clashes as tens of thousands of Gazans protested the United States transfer of its embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem the same day. Peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians have been moribund since April 2014 and Israeli settlements in occupied territories have expanded. Seventy-two people were killed on the Israeli side. But Israel has faced global criticism and calls for an independent investigation over its use of live fire during the protests and border clashes.

Hamas' decision to stop the attacks suggests it means to avoid another war, one that might well end its control of Gaza.

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