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Hamas announces deal to end Gaza-Israel escalation

Announcement comes after weeks of escalating tensions and as Gaza deals with the coronavirus pandemic
The agreement between Hamas and Israel comes after weeks of escalating tensions
The agreement between Hamas and Israel comes after weeks of escalating tensions (AFP/File photo)

Hamas announced on Monday that a deal had been reached through Qatari mediation to avoid escalations with Israel after a four-week flareup saw Gaza bombed on an almost daily basis.

Hamas leader Yahya Sinwar's office said in a statement that "after a round of talks, mediated by the Qatari representative Mohammed al-Amadi, an understanding has been reached to avoid an escalation and stabilise the situation".

Israel has repeatedly bombed Gaza since 6 August in what it says is a response to airborne incendiary devices and, less frequently, rockets launched across the border.

The firebombs, crude devices fitted to balloons, kites, inflated condoms or plastic bags, have triggered more than 400 blazes in southern Israel, according to fire brigade figures.

The fire balloons are widely seen as an attempt by Hamas to improve the terms of an informal truce under which Israel committed to ease its 13-year-old blockade in return for calm on the border.

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But so far Israel's response has been to tighten the blockade, which critics say amounts to collective punishment of the impoverished area's two million residents.

Egypt also upholds the siege, restricting movement in and out of Gaza on its border.

As a result of the mediation efforts, Hamas said "several projects will be announced to serve our people in [the] Gaza Strip and contribute in mitigating" difficult living conditions.

Its statement didn't detail any of the projects but said conditions would return to "what they were before the escalation".

Under previous, unofficial understandings reached through intermediaries, Hamas has sought large-scale economic projects to help lower unemployment hovering around 50 percent, a broader easing of restrictions on movement, and increased power supplies from Israel. It accuses Israel of moving too slowly or not honouring its commitments.

COGAT, an Israeli defence body responsible for Palestinian civilian affairs, announced late on Monday that it would immediately reopen Gaza's only cargo crossing and resume fuel shipments into the territory. It also said it would reopen a 25km fishing zone off Gaza's coast.

"This decision will be tested on the ground: if Hamas, which is accountable for all actions that are taken in the Gaza Strip, fails to stand its obligations, Israel will act accordingly," it said.

The UN envoy to the region, Nickolay Mladenov, welcomed the agreement.

"Ending the launching of incendiary devices and projectiles, restoring electricity will allow #UN to focus on dealing with the #COVID19 crisis," he tweeted.