GAZA/JERUSALEM (Reuters) – Palestinian militant groups in Gaza agreed on Tuesday to halt cross-border attacks immediately if Israel did the same, Palestinian officials said, after the most serious exchanges of aerial fire since a 2014 war.
Since Monday, Israeli air strikes have killed seven Palestinians, at least five of them militants. Rocket attacks from Gaza killed a Palestinian man in Israel.
“(Palestinian) factions have agreed to hold fire on condition Israel abides by this,” said a Palestinian official familiar with Egyptian truce efforts. Another Palestinian official, asked when a ceasefire might start, said: “Immediately, should Israel reciprocate.”
Israel’s security cabinet, after a six-hour meeting, said it ordered the military to continue strikes in Gaza “as required”, indicating they would be calibrated in response to Palestinian attacks.
Hamas and other armed factions fired over 400 rockets or mortar bombs across the fenced border after carrying out a surprise guided-missile attack on Monday on a bus that wounded an Israeli soldier, the military said.
Hamas said it was retaliating for a botched Israeli commando raid in Gaza that killed one of its commanders and six other gunmen on Sunday. An Israeli colonel was also killed in that incident.
Sirens rang out in southern Israeli towns on Tuesday and people ran for shelter after Palestinian rockets crashed into several homes overnight. The military said the Iron Dome anti-rocket system intercepted more than 100 projectiles.
Israel responded with dozens of air strikes, hitting buildings overnight that included a Hamas intelligence compound and the studios of Hamas’s Al-Aqsa Television, whose employees had received advance warnings from the military to evacuate.
In aerial attacks on Tuesday, Israel’s military said it took out a rocket-launching squad and fired at several Palestinians infiltrating through the border fence around Gaza, which Israel keeps under blockade.
Violence has simmered since Palestinians launched weekly border protests on March 30 to demand the easing of the blockade on Gaza and rights to lands lost in the 1948 war of Israel’s founding. Israeli troops have killed more that 220 Palestinians during the confrontations, which have included border breaches.
Writing by Jeffrey Heller and Dan Williams; Editing by Andrew Heavens and Angus MacSwan