Israeli and Palestinian militants declared a Gaza ceasefire

GAZA/JERUSALEM, Aug 7 (Reuters) – Israel and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad militant group announced a cease-fire late on Sunday, raising hopes of an end to the heaviest flare-up on the Gaza border in more than a year.

Israeli forces hit Palestinian targets over the weekend and fired rocket attacks against its cities, which had largely subsided by the time the ceasefire came into force at 23:30 (20:30 GMT).

This was announced in separate statements by Islamic Jihad and Israel, both of which thanked Egypt for mediating the ceasefire.

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The three-day clashes echoed the prelude to earlier Gaza wars, which have so far been largely aloof as the ruling Islamist group Hamas and Iran-backed Islamic Jihad are relatively more powerful in the Gaza Strip.

Gaza officials said 44 Palestinians, nearly half of them civilians and including children, have been killed so far. Rockets have threatened much of southern Israel and sent residents of cities including Tel Aviv and Ashkelon into shelters.

Israel launched preemptive strikes on Friday against what it expected to be an Islamic Jihad attack in retaliation for the arrest of the group’s leader, Bassam al-Saadi, in the occupied West Bank.

In response, Islamic Jihad fired hundreds of rockets at Israel. At a press conference in Tehran, the group’s leader, Ziad al-Nakala, said Cairo would “work to free” al-Saadi. Israeli and Egyptian officials did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

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On Sunday, Islamic Jihad expanded its firing range toward Jerusalem in retaliation for Israel’s overnight killing of its southern Gaza commander — the second senior official it has lost in the war.

Israel’s Iron Dome interceptor said it shot down rockets west of the city. The army has fallen short of others, causing many Gaza casualties, with Hamas claiming all of the Palestinian deaths were caused by Israeli attacks.

Since the outbreak of war in 2008-09, 2012, 2014 and last year – Palestinians have been stunned by yet another bloody uprising and have picked through the ruins of their homes to salvage their possessions.

“Who wants war? No one. But we don’t want to be silent when women, children and leaders are killed,” said a Gaza taxi driver who identified himself only as Abu Mohammed. “An eye for an eye.”

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Additional reporting by Ali Sawabta Ramallah; Don Williams in Jerusalem and Ahmed Mohammed Hassan in Cairo; Written by Dan Williams; Editing by Mark Heinrich, John Stonestreet and Diane Craft

Our Standards: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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