OCCUPIED JERUSALEM/GAZA CITY: A deadly flare-up in fighting between Israel and Gaza’s militant Hamas group subsided Thursday after Egypt helped to restore calm ahead of a major Muslim holiday.
Weeks of simmering violence intensified Tuesday night, when rocket fire from Gaza drew Israeli airstrikes that killed two Palestinian militants. Palestinian militants were angry over a series of Israeli strikes that targeted shadowy jihadists in Gaza. The hostilities came to a boil Wednesday, when militants fired some 80 rockets and mortars at southern Israel, and Israeli aircraft struck Gaza four times.
As Gaza began preparing for Eid al-Adha, which starts Friday, medical sources said 24-year-old Ahmad Hrzalla, a militant with the Popular Resistance Committees who was severely wounded in an airstrike in Rafah, died of his injuries Thursday.
His death raised to eight the number of militants killed in the flare-up, four of them from Hamas’ armed wing the Ezzedine al-Qassam Brigades, and three from the PRC. The affiliation of the other dead militant was not clear.
The rocket and mortar fire stopped overnight Wednesday, though one projectile landed in southern Israel Thursday morning, causing no damage. The military said it last struck Gaza Wednesday morning.
Both sides confirmed Egyptian involvement in ending the fighting.
Under longtime leader Hosni Mubarak, Egypt had played an important role in halting multiple outbreaks of hostilities between Israel and Gaza militants. The new government of Egyptian President Mohammad Mursi, who belongs to Hamas’ parent movement, the Muslim Brotherhood, kept up the tradition.
Israeli defense official Amos Gilad told Army Radio Thursday Egyptian security forces had “a very impressive ability” to convey to the militants it is in their “supreme interest not to attack.”
Hamas spokesman Ayman Taha said Egypt conveyed Israel’s desire to contain the violence.
“We said we’ll abide by the calm if the occupation abides,” he said, referring to Israel. “It happened over the phone with Egyptian intelligence.”
The truce came as Mahmoud Abbas briefed EU Foreign Policy chief Catherine Ashton about attempts to raise the Palestinians’ U.N. status to non-member state.
The Palestinian leader told Ashton that his side was “ready to return to the negotiating table after raising the status of Palestine at the U.N., in order to resume talks” with Israel, the official Wafa news agency said.
Ashton said for her part that the EU still considered the principle of the two-state solution the basis for resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
She also met Hanan Ashrawi, a senior Palestinian leader and member of the Palestine Liberation Organization, as she ended a two-day visit to Israel and the Palestinian territories.
“Our decision to go to the United Nations is a serious attempt to salvage the peace process and to end the [Israeli] occupation,” Ashrawi said in a statement.
“We call on the European Union and other members of the international community to join us in our efforts to curb Israeli unilateral policies that violate international [law] and undermine the prospects for a just peace with the creation of a Palestinian state,” she said.