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Relative calm on Gaza frontier as Israel, Palestinian factions hold fire

Palestinian groups say they're ready to implement ceasefire if Israel halts strikes after most serious exchange of fire since 2014
Israeli air strikes pounded the Gaza Strip overnight, killing at least seven Palestinians and wounding dozens of others (AFP)

Palestinian factions and Israel held their fire on Tuesday after international pressure appeared to have successfully brokered at least a temporary ceasefire, bringing relative calm to the Gaza frontier after the fiercest rocket salvoes and air strikes since the 2014 war.

Fighting died down around 5pm local time and a Palestinian official briefed on the negotiations said Gaza factions ceased firing as part of a deal proposed by Egypt. Israeli officials confirmed Cairo had been involved in Tuesday's arrangement.

Citing an unidentified, foreign diplomatic source, Israeli daily Haaretz reported late Tuesday that the ceasefire follows the agreement Israel and the Palestinian factions reached in 2014.

Gaza wakes up to rubble and funerals after Israeli strikes
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"The situation remains very precarious and can blow up again," the foreign source, who is involved in the agreement, told the newspaper.

"What we have seen in the past 48 hours was very dangerous and no efforts should be spared to avoid similar flare-ups. However, and on the bright side of all of this, the fuel shipments, under the UN’s supervision, continued to flow into the Strip unhindered," the source said.

Israeli newspaper Ynet reported that Israeli cabinet ministers agreed to accept the Egyptian mediators' ceasefire proposal, after a recommendation from the Israeli defence establishment to do so.

The decision came after a seven-hour cabinet meeting and amid alleged squabbles between Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and some of his cabinet ministers, Ynet said.

"Some claim that the prime minister 'imprisoned' them for many hours, and engineered the discussion so he could achieve the outcome he was interested in from the start, but fearing [political] harm, he created the impression that he attains all ministers' support," the newspaper reported.

Israelis protest against ceasefire

Meanwhile, about 350 protesters gathered in the southern Israeli city of Sderot to demonstrate against the ceasefire, saying the country has not done enough to protect the town from rockets firing from Gaza.

The United States on Tuesday condemned rocket and missile attacks from Gaza into Israel and said it stood with Israel.

"We condemn in the strongest terms the rocket, missile and mortar attacks that are taking place from Gaza into Israel," US State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said at a news briefing.

"We call for the sustained halt of those attacks. We stand with Israel as Israel defends itself against these attacks. It is simply unacceptable to target civilians," she said.

Palestinian witnesses near the fence with Israel told an MEE correspondent in the Gaza Strip that Israeli air raids and Hamas rockets stopped at 3:30 GMT. 

Israel's hardline defence minister, Avigdor Lieberman, issued a statement saying he did not support stopping the strikes.

UN Security Council meets

Also on Tuesday, the UN Security Council met behind closed doors to discuss the escalation of violence in the Gaza Strip but there was no agreement on how to address the crisis, diplomats said.

Kuwait, which represents Arab countries at the council, and Bolivia requested the meeting following the Gaza flare-up. 

Addressing reporters after the 50-minute meeting, Palestinian Ambassador Riyad Mansour said the council was "paralyzed" and had "failed to shoulder its responsibility" to take action to end the violence.

"There is one country that is not allowing discussion at the council," Mansour told reporters, in a reference to the United States, which has taken a more decidedly pro-Israeli stance under President Donald Trump.

There was no statement from the council on the crisis. Such statements are agreed by consensus by all 15 council members.

Kuwait's Ambassador Mansour al-Otaibi said the majority of council members were of the view that the top UN body "should do something" and some suggested a visit to the region, but no decision was taken.

An unexploded missile launched by an Israeli F-16 lay in Khan Younis city in Gaza Strip (Twitter\@qudsn)

Failed Israeli raid sparked uptick in violence

At least 15 Palestinians and one Israeli have been killed since Sunday evening, when an Israeli special forces unit was intercepted by Hamas fighters three kilometres inside the Gaza Strip, sparking a deadly altercation.

Seven Palestinians were killed by Israeli air raids on Gaza since Monday evening, the Strip's health ministry said, as the Israeli security cabinet ordered the army to "press Gaza attacks as required".

Hundreds of rockets fired by Hamas into Israel overnight killed one Palestinian man from Hebron and injured dozens of Israelis, one critically.

The latest Palestinian casualty was identified as 29-year-old Khaled Akram Marouf, who died in northern Gaza on Tuesday evening.

Translation: A demonstration in Ramallah's streets in condemnation of the occupation crimes in the Gaza Strip and in solidarity with the resistance. 

Meanwhile, Palestinians in the West Bank cities of Ramallah and Jenin have demonstrated in solidarity with Palestinians in Gaza and against the recent Israeli air raids on residents there.

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Yair Lapid, an Israeli lawmaker and head of the Yesh Atid party, visited Sderot on Tuesday.

What we would like to ask the world is to do us justice. We have been under the siege and injustice of the Israelis for years

- Ibrahim Rabaa, Gaza City resident

He tweeted: "It's time to activate the power. The IDF [Israeli army] toolbox is large and has not been exploited yet. There is no order without deterrent. It forbidden that Hamas manage us."

Dina Asaad, 27, who lives in northern Gaza City, told Middle East Eye that she has not heard "such massive explosions for the past four years".

"We could not sleep all night as explosions rocked almost every neighbourhood in the Strip," she said. "This looks pretty much like the beginning of the last three attacks [the wars of 2009, 2012 and 2014], one of them even started with assassinating a Hamas leader and continued for several days."

Ibrahim Rabaa, a resident of Gaza City, told MEE that "Gaza is being bombed by the strongest war machine in the Middle East".

"The Israelis threaten us, [first] by escalation, second by war, and we have gotten used to these threats. What we would like to ask the world is to do us justice. We have been under the siege and injustice of the Israelis for years."

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