Hamas Pledges to End Airborne Firebombs as Part of Cease-fire, Senior Israeli Official Says

Official says Hamas willing to stop 'fire and fence terror' ■ Israeli army announces 'return to routine' ■ Israeli soldier killed by Palestinian snipers ■ Israel strikes dozens of Hamas targets

An Israeli soldier attempts to extinguish a fire in a forest field near Kibbutz of Nahal Oz, along the border with the Gaza Strip, on July 17, 2018.
AFP

A senior Israeli offical said Saturday that Hamas suffered a severe blow with the Israeli offensive on Gaza on Friday and asked for a truce through Egyptian mediators. The official also added that Hamas offered to stop "fire terror" and "terror at the fence," likely referring to launches of flaming kites and baloons toward Israel as well as to attacks and infiltration attempts at the border.

"The Egyptians are guarantors for us. In any case, actions on the ground will determine what happens, and if Hamas violates the truce, it will pay an even heavier price," the official added.

Earlier on Saturday, an Israeli army spokesperson has announced Israeli communities adjacent to the Gaza border could return to a normal "civilian routine" as calm seems to be restored after a deadly exchange with Gaza militants on Friday.

"At the end of an assessment by the southern command this morning it was decided to maintain a full civilian routine in the communities close to the Gaza strip," the statement read, adding "there are no special restrictions on the home front."

Israel's attack in the Gaza Strip, July 20, 2018.
Eliyahu Hershkovitz

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Israel and Hamas have agreed to restore calm in the Gaza Strip, a spokesman for Hamas said on Saturday, after an escalation late Friday evening.

"With Egyptian and United Nations efforts it has been agreed to return to the era of calm between [Israel] and Palestinian factions," Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum told Reuters.

Despite the lull in the fighting, on Saturday morning the Israeli army targeted a Hamas position with tank fire after suspects crossed into Israel from Gaza. The suspects then headed back to the strip and the Israeli army did not report on any casualties in its statement.

During Friday's clashes, an Israeli soldier was killed by Palestinian gunmen along the Gaza border. He was evacuated to Soroka Medical Center in the southern city of Be'er Sheva after he came under sniper fire and was declared dead at the hospital.

The slain soldier is the first to be killed on the Gaza front in active duty since the 2014 war between Israel and Hamas, an Israeli army spokesman said. He was wearing a bulletproof vest when he came under sniper fire during the weekly demonstrations dubbed "March of Return". His family has been informed of his death, but his identity and the exact circumstances of the incident are yet to be disclosed by the army.

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The Israeli army said it carried out extensive attacks on Hamas targets after the soldier was killed. Four Palestinians were also killed in the exchange. Hamas' armed wing, Izzedine al-Qassam Brigades, confirmed that three of them were members of the organization.

Three rockets were fired at Israel from Gaza during the escalation; two of the rockets were intercepted by Israel's Iron Dome, the anti-rocket defense system. The third rocket fell in an open area near Kibbutz Nahal Oz. No injuries or damage were reported.

The Israeli army said its tanks had hit 68 Hamas targets and had "eliminated about 60 buildings and infrastructures and revoked significant military and command and control capabilities."

Following the escalation, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu held two security meetings with Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman, the military chief Gadi Eisenkot, Shin Bet director Nadav Argaman and other senior defense officials. "If Hamas continues launching rockets, the result will be a lot worse than they think," Lieberman told the United Nations' Middle East ambassador, Nickolay Mladenov.

Lieberman warned earlier Friday that Hamas is forcing Israel into a situation that may demand a "broad, painful military operation" that will be larger than the last one in 2014.

"We are trying to be measured and responsible, but the leaders of Hamas are leading us into a situation in which there is no choice, a situation in which we will have to embark on a broad and painful military operation, not only for appearances," Lieberman said on a visit to the southern city of Sderot.

He added that such an operation would be "more painful than Operation Protective Edge" for Hamas. "Unfortunately, residents of Gaza will be among those who will have to pay the price," he said.