Gaza truce mostly holds after heavy Israel strikes
GAZA CITY, July 15: A ceasefire announced by Hamas largely held on Sunday after the most severe exchange of fire between Israel and Palestinian militants in the Gaza Strip since a 2014 war, easing fears of a wider conflict for now.
Hamas, the Islamist movement that runs the blockaded Gaza Strip, said late Saturday a ceasefire had been reached with the help of Egypt and others, though Israel declined to comment.
The United Nations' Middle East envoy Nickolay Mladenov was in Gaza and "working with all concerned parties to de-escalate the situation," a UN official said on condition of anonymity.
Despite a few lower-level exchanges of fire overnight, relative calm returned to the Gaza Strip.
In one incident on Sunday, an Israeli aircraft fired at what it said was militants launching balloons carrying firebombs over the Gaza border fence. It was not yet clear if there were casualties.
Saturday saw dozens of Israeli air strikes, killing two Palestinians, while some 200 rockets and mortars were fired from the enclave at Israel.
Four Israelis were wounded when a rocket hit a house in the city of Sderot near the Gaza Strip, authorities said.
The two Palestinians killed were aged 15 and 16, caught in an Israeli strike on a building in the west of Gaza City, the enclave's health ministry said.
Twenty-five people were wounded across Gaza, the ministry said.
Hamas said it fired at Israel in defence in response to air strikes, which came after a soldier was wounded by a grenade along the Gaza border.
Fawzi Barhoum, Hamas spokesman, said "the protection and the defence of our people is a national duty and a strategic choice." -AFP