Palestinian militants agree truce after exchange of fire with Israel

GAZA/JERUSALEM (Reuters) – Palestinian militants said on Saturday they would halt attacks into Israel from the Gaza Strip after they fired the heaviest rocket salvoes across the border since August.

The Palestinian Islamic Jihad, one of the armed groups that operates in Gaza, said it fired the rockets in retaliation for Israel’s killing of four Palestinian protesters on Friday.

Israel in response struck dozens of targets in the Gaza Strip on Saturday.

A spokesman for the militants said an Egyptian-mediated truce had been reached.

“After contacts between the Islamic Jihad leadership and the brothers in Egypt it was agreed that a comprehensive ceasefire will begin immediately,” spokesman Daoud Shehab said. “The Islamic Jihad will abide by the ceasefire if the occupation (Israel) does the same.”

Egyptian security officials have been talking separately to Israeli and Palestinian leaders in an attempt to restore calm along the border.

An Israeli military spokeswoman declined comment on Shehab’s remarks and there was no immediate response from other Israeli officials. Israel rarely acknowledges it has reached a truce with Gaza’s militant groups which it designates as terrorist organizations.

Earlier, Israeli military spokesman Lieutenant-Colonel Jonathan Conricus accused Syria and Iran of involvement in the rocket attack.

“Orders and incentives were given from Damascus with a clear involvement of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards al-Quds force,” Conricus told reporters. “Our response is not limited geographically.”

Israel regularly accuses Iran of aiding Gaza militants, but rarely levels the charge in connection with a specific rocket attack.

WEEKLY PROTESTS

Shehab dismissed the allegation as “an Israeli attempt to escape its responsibility” for Friday’s protest deaths.

There were no casualties reported from the heavy exchange of fire in either Israel or Gaza, which is controlled by the Islamist Hamas group.

The Israeli military said it holds Hamas accountable for the events in Gaza. It said its air force hit more than 80 targets including one used by Hamas as a headquarters, in response to more than 30 rockets launched into Israel. There was no immediate comment from Hamas.

The flare-up began after the four Palestinians were killed on Friday during weekly protests. Israel said its forces were attacked with explosive devices and some demonstrators breached the border.

Palestinians have been protesting along the frontier since March 30, demanding an end to an Israeli blockade and the right to return to lands from which they fled or were driven from when Israel was founded in 1948.

According to the Palestinian Health Ministry, 213 Gazans have been killed by Israeli forces during the protests. An Israeli soldier was killed by a Palestinian sniper.

About two million Palestinians are packed into the Gaza Strip which is in a deep economic crisis. Israel says it keeps a naval blockade and tight control of its land crossings with the enclave for security reasons.

Israel has struck scores of times inside Syria during the seven-year civil war there, at what it has said were Iranian targets or Teheran’s transfers of weapons to Hezbollah fighters.

Slideshow (8 Images)

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu made a rare visit to Oman on Friday. Israel and some Gulf states share an interest in curbing Iran’s influence in the region.

Oman’s foreign affairs minister Yousuf bin Alawi bin Abdullah said on Saturday the sultanate was offering ideas to help Israel and the Palestinians come together but was not acting as mediator.

Peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians broke down in 2014.

Writing by Maayan Lubell; Editing by John Stonestreet

Article source: http://feeds.reuters.com/~r/reuters/topNews/~3/r2_RROXriug/palestinian-militants-agree-truce-after-exchange-of-fire-with-israel-idUSKCN1N1068

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