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Hamas says deal reached with Israel to restore calm in Gaza

Hamas says it has agreed to a truce with Israel in the Gaza Strip, a day after clashes killed an Israeli soldier and four Palestinians along the volatile border.

Weekly clashes along Israel-Gaza border have kept tensions high for months

A Palestinian man removes a chair at a Hamas observation post that was targeted in Israeli shelling, in Khan Younis in the southern Gaza Strip, on Saturday. (Ibraheem Abu Mustafa/Reuters)

Hamas said on Saturday it had agreed to a truce with Israel in the Gaza Strip, a day after clashes killed an Israeli soldier and four Palestinians along the volatile border.

The Israeli military declined to comment on the reported ceasefire. Israel's government and army rarely acknowledge ceasefires with Hamas, but a military spokesperson said civilian life should return to normal in areas next to Gaza.

In what appeared to be an isolated incident, with no reports of casualties, an Israeli tank fired on a Hamas post in Gaza after Palestinian suspects breached the border fence and entered Israeli territory before retreating back into Gaza, the military said. There were no other reports of unrest in the area.

On Friday, Palestinian gunmen killed an Israeli soldier and the Israeli military launched dozens of strikes that killed four Palestinians, including three Hamas fighters. At least 120 Gazans were wounded.

"With Egyptian and United Nations efforts it has been agreed to return to the era of calm between [Israel] and Palestinian factions," said Fawzi Barhoum, spokesperson for the Hamas Islamist group that controls Gaza.

The soldier was the first member of Israel's army to be killed on the Gaza front since a 2014 war between Israel and Hamas, a military spokesperson said.

Egyptian-brokered agreement?

During the flare-up which lasted several hours, the Israeli military said its jets and tanks hit 68 Hamas targets, and destroyed "buildings and infrastructures and revoked significant military and command and control capabilities."

Egyptian security officials and a diplomat from another unnamed state held contacts with Hamas and Israel in an effort to restore calm and prevent further deterioration, a Palestinian official told Reuters.

If confirmed, it would be the third ceasefire between Israel Islamist Hamas to be brokered by Egypt this year and the second truce to be agreed this week after a day-long flare up last Saturday.

Protesters gather while burning tires near the fence along the Gaza Strip's border with Israel east of Khan Younis on Friday. (Adel Hana/Associated Press)

Weekly clashes along the Israel-Gaza border have kept tensions high for months. At least 140 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli forces during protests at the frontier held every week since March.

Protest organizers say they are demanding the right to return to lands lost to Israel in the 1948 war of its foundation and for an Israeli-Egyptian blockade to ease.

Israel says Hamas has been orchestrating the demonstrations, dubbed The Great March of Return, to provide cover for militants' cross-border attacks. Hamas denies this.
 
The surge in violence comes as Palestinian hopes for an independent state have dwindled and peace talks remain stalled. Gaza, home to two million people, most of whom depend on foreign aid, has been under Israeli economic sanctions for 12 years.

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