Fragile Ceasefire Holds After Hamas Kills IDF Soldier, Israel Launches Major Retaliatory Strikes
A truce between Israel and Hamas, the Islamic terrorist group that controls the Gaza Strip, was largely holding on Saturday a day after one of the most fierce flare-ups along the volatile border in years.
Hamas declared a ceasefire with Israel, brokered by Egypt, a day after a Hamas sniper killed an IDF soldier, 21-year-old Aviv Levi. Four Palestinians, three of them Hamas fighters, died in Israeli retaliatory strikes.
A senior Israeli official confirmed a truce was in place. The Israeli military declined to comment on the ceasefire but a military spokeswoman said civilians could resume normal activities.
In what appeared to be an isolated incident, with no reports of casualties, an Israeli tank fired on a Hamas post in Gaza after Palestinian suspects breached the border fence and entered Israeli territory before retreating back to Gaza, the military said.
Levi was shot on Friday by a Palestinian sniper, after which Israel launched dozens of strikes that killed three Hamas fighters. A fourth Palestinian was killed by Israeli gunfire during a riot near the border.
“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.
Levi was the first Israeli soldier killed on the Gaza front since Operation Cast Lead in 2014, a military spokesman said.
During the flare-up, which lasted several hours, the IDF said its jets and tanks hit 68 Hamas targets and destroyed “buildings and infrastructures and revoked significant military and command and control capabilities.”
“Hamas took a huge blow yesterday and through the Egyptians asked for a ceasefire,” said a senior Israeli official, who spoke on condition of anonymity. Egypt reportedly told Hamas that Israel was ready to go to war within two hours if the terrorist group did not agree to a truce.
Egyptian, Qatari, and United Nations officials held contacts with Hamas and Israel in an effort to restore calm and prevent an upsurge in violence, Hamas official Taher Nono told Reuters.
Over the past few weeks the Israel-Gaza border has seen some of the worst violence since the 2014 war. The ceasefire is the third between Israel and Hamas to be brokered by Egypt this year and the second this week after day-long fighting 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, the majority of them Hamas terrorists.
During this time, fires caused by incendiary balloons and kites launched by Palestinians in Gaza over the border have ravaged tracts of Israeli farmland. Israel has vowed to stop the attacks, even at the risk of wider conflict.
The Israeli official said Hamas had promised the Egyptians they would “end the fire terrorism and the terrorism along the border fence.”
But Hamas’ Nono said the truce would not mean Israel would gain the upper hand. “We will not allow an (Israeli) imposition of new equations on the ground,” he told Reuters.
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.
US President Donald Trump’s Middle East envoy condemned Hamas on Friday after fighting began. “Hamas works relentlessly to destroy Israeli lives (& Gazans suffer as a result of Hamas),” Jason Greenblatt said on Twitter. Israel and the US, along with many other countries, designate Hamas a terrorist organization.