Hamas agrees to Gaza ceasefire if Israel reciprocates

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Hamas says armed groups in the Gaza Strip have agreed to a ceasefire deal with Israel following one of the worst days in violence since the 2014 Gaza war.

The Israeli government had yet to comment on Wednesday on the offer following a night of air strikes targeting several Hamas and Islamic Jihad positions in the coastal enclave.

Khalil al-Hayya, Hamas’s deputy chief in Gaza, said in a statement “a number of mediators intervened in the past hours and an agreement was reached to return to a ceasefire in Gaza”, adding the group was committed to it as long as Israel was.

Hours earlier, a Hamas-affiliated Twitter account said the group would return to previous understandings with Israel concerning the Gaza Strip. 

Israeli Intelligence Minister Israel Katz sidestepped questions on whether Israel had agreed to a ceasefire, but said it was not interested in an escalation towards war.

“It all depends on Hamas. If it continues [to attack], I don’t know what its fate will be,” Katz told Israel Radio.

The Israeli army said it struck 60 targets belonging to Palestinian resistance groups after a “barrage of projectiles” were fired from Gaza into southern Israel on Tuesday.

The firing of rockets and mortar rounds came as Islamic Jihad vowed to avenge a deadly attack against its members last week.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas slammed Israel for the burst of violence, accusing it of “escalating tensions”.

“Difficult days have passed in the West Bank, Jerusalem and especially in the Gaza Strip. The Israeli occupation launched a fierce aggression on the Gaza Strip today with rockets and aircrafts. This indicates that the occupation does not want peace. However, we want peace and we demand peace”.

Debilitating siege

Tuesday’s exchange of fire came after weeks of deadly unrest in the enclave.

Since March 30, at least 121 unarmed Palestinians have been killed by Israeli forces in protests near the fence with Israel. Gazans are demanding their right to return to the homes and land their families were expelled from during the establishment of Israel in 1948.

Gaza has been under a devastating Israeli-imposed blockade for the past 12 years, severely restricting the movement of Palestinians in and out of the territory of more than two million people.

On Tuesday, a group of Palestinians set sail from Gaza in an attempt to breach Israel’s naval blockade by boat.

The vessel, carrying patients needing medical care, students and job-seeking university graduates, was later captured by Israeli warships and towed to Israel. 

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More than two million Palestinians are packed into the Gaza Strip, a narrow coastal enclave.

Israel withdrew its troops and settlers from Gaza in 2005 but, citing security concerns, maintains tight control of its land and sea borders, which has reduced its economy to a state of collapse.

Egypt also restricts movement in and out of Gaza on its border.

Peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians have been stalled since 2014 and Israeli settlements in occupied territory Palestinians seek for a state have expanded.

Gaza experienced its most significant conflict in 2014 when at least 2,251 Palestinians, most of whom were civilians, were killed. At least 66 Israeli soldiers and six civilians were also killed. 

SOURCE: Al Jazeera and news agencies

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