Israel denied it has agreed to a ceasefire with Palestinian militants in Gaza as claimed by Hamas after the worst military flare-up since a 2014 war, but calm returned Wednesday and there were signs the latest crisis may be ending.
The exchange of fire on Tuesday and into the early hours of Wednesday had raised the possibility of yet another war in the beleaguered Palestinian enclave run by Islamist movement Hamas, which would be the fourth since 2008.
Israel said it targeted some 65 militant sites in the Gaza Strip. It also said around 100 rockets and mortars fired from Gaza either exploded in Israel or were intercepted by air defences.
Late Tuesday, an Islamic Jihad spokesman said a ceasefire had been reached, and on Wednesday senior Hamas official Khalil al-Hayya also spoke of an accord.
Calm returned to the Gaza Strip and nearby Israeli communities on Wednesday.
Israeli Intelligence Minister Yisrael Katz denied talk of a deal, though a senior defence official reportedly said Israel would refrain from further strikes if there was no more fire from Gaza.
“Israel does not want the situation to deteriorate, but those who started the violence must stop it,” Katz told Israeli public radio.
“Israel will make (Hamas) pay for all fire against Israel.”
In a rare joint statement, Hamas and Islamic Jihad declared shared responsibility for the rocket and mortar fire, saying it was in retaliation for Israeli attacks targeting their positions.
The United Nations Security Council is expected to meet Wednesday to discuss the violence, following a US request for an urgent meeting.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had vowed Tuesday to “respond to these attacks powerfully”.
Shortly after he spoke, Israel’s military began air strikes. Explosions shook the Palestinian enclave and smoke rose from the sites hit.
Israel says its actions are necessary to defend its borders, accusing Hamas of encouraging thousands of Palestinians to break through the border and attack Israelis.
But Israel has faced international criticism and calls for an independent investigation over its use of live fire during the protests and border clashes.