Cross-border fighting between Israel and Hamas abated on Tuesday after a day of Palestinian rocket attacks and Israeli air strikes, but Israel said it reserved the right to strike again and kept its forces massed at the Gaza frontier.
The biggest Israeli-Palestinian escalation in months, which began on Monday with the longest-range rocket attack to cause casualties in Israel for five years, appeared to have been curbed overnight by Egyptian mediation.
Israel responded to Monday’s rocket attack with a wave of strikes on targets belonging to the Hamas militant group that controls the Gaza strip. Seven Israelis were injured in the initial rocket attack and five Palestinians were wounded by the retaliatory Israeli strikes, although most of the targets hit appeared to have been evacuated in advance.
The border area fell quiet on Tuesday morning after Hamas said Egypt had brokered a truce. As in past escalations that ended with Egyptian mediation, Israel denied it had agreed to a ceasefire with Hamas, which it views as a terrorist group.
The escalation was the biggest since November between Israel and Hamas, which fought three wars between 2007 and 2014 and have come to the brink of all-out conflict several times since.
“We don’t want war”
Retaliatory Israeli air strikes in Gaza lit up the night sky and explosions rocked the densely-populated coastal enclave, destroying targets that included the office of Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh. The military said extra Israeli soldiers and tanks had been moved to the border.
In the morning, with the bombing having stopped, Gazans picked through the rubble of destroyed buildings to search for valuables and documents. Some Gaza universities were shut but schools were open, although many families kept children home.
“We don’t want war, but if Israel wants it then what should we do? We ask our factions to respond,” said Mohammad Sayed, 40. “But we hope Egypt reaches a deal to end this.”
Gaza militants fired barrages of rockets into Israel late into Monday night. Some were shot down by Israeli defenses and others landed in empty areas.
Israel captured the territory in the 1967 war but pulled out its troops in 2005. Hamas took control two years later, and since then Israel and Egypt have maintained a security blockade that has brought Gaza’s economy to a state of collapse.