GAZA/JERUSALEM • The Israel-Gaza border was quiet yesterday after an Egyptian-brokered truce ended a surge in violence that had shaken southern Israel and the Gaza Strip for two days.
But the ceasefire could face a test as Palestinians in Gaza planned on resuming weekly border protests, which at times have become violent.
After a quiet Thursday night, Israel's military told residents in the south, who had spent much of the past two days in rocket shelters, they could return to their daily routines. A rise in cross-border rockets and air strikes in recent weeks has prompted the United Nations and Egypt to try to broker a truce to prevent another all-out conflict.
Thursday had seen extensive Israeli raids in retaliation for the launching of more than 180 rockets and mortar rounds by Gaza's Islamist rulers Hamas and its allies on Wednesday night. Three Palestinians were killed in the Israeli strikes, including a mother and her year-old daughter, while seven Israelis were wounded by Palestinian rocket fire .
An Israeli air raid flattened a five-storey building which hosted a cultural centre in Gaza City but which the army said was used by Hamas security forces. It was one of the most serious flare-ups since the 2014 Gaza war and followed months of escalating tensions.
The Israeli security Cabinet and the Hamas leadership convened separately late on Thursday, with the truce on the table. Later, Palestinian officials said a truce had been reached with Egyptian mediation. There was no formal comment from Israel, which rarely acknowledges reaching any such agreement with Hamas.
Hamas, an Islamist group designated by most Western countries as a terrorist organisation, has fought three wars with Israel in the past decade. With the ceasefire holding, organisers of border protests against Israel drove through the 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, and a Gaza sniper killed an Israeli soldier.
Egypt and the United Nations have been trying to mediate a comprehensive ceasefire to prevent an escalation in fighting and to ease the deep economic hardship in Gaza, a narrow strip of land that is home to two million Palestinians.
REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE