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Gaza on the Brink: Palestinian Factions Said to Agree to Cease-fire at Egypt's Request

Israeli security cabinet meeting enters sixth hour ■ Seven Palestinians said killed over past 24 hours as Hamas threatens to extend range of rocket fire ■ Foreign diplomatic official denies Israeli claims that it's not working with Egypt, UN on Gaza cease-fire ■ IDF bolsters forces along Israel-Gaza border

Soldiers in an Israeli Iron Dome anti-rocket battery, southern Israel, November 13, 2018.
Eliyahu Hershkovitz

Palestinian factions agreed to a cease-fire in Gaza at Egypt's request, Palestinian reports said Tuesday after three days of hostilities between Israel and the Palestinians.

Israel struck in Gaza on Tuesday afternoon, targeting the northern part of the Strip, Palestinian media reported. The attack reportedly resulted in casualties. According to Gaza’s Health Ministry, a 29-year-old Palestinian identified as Khaled Maaruf was killed in the strike.

A Hamas official stated in response to the ongoing hostilities that “as soon as Israel stops its aggression on the Gaza Strip, the forces of the resistance will halt the fire. All mediators must stop Israel.”

Israel's security cabinet convened on Tuesday to discuss the latest violent escalation, during which over 400 projectiles were fired at Israel, killing one and wounding some 70 civilians.

Officials from the United Nations and Egypt will visit Gaza on Wednesday. A foreign diplomatic source denied that Israeli contacts with the UN and Egypt on a cease-fire have stopped. Earlier Tuesday, an Israeli official said Israel is currently not working with the UN nor Cairo to defuse tensions.

A 40-year-old man was killed after a house was hit by a rocket in the southern Israeli town Ashkelon late Monday night. Two women who were in the same building at the time of the incident are said to be in critical condition. The fatality is reportedly a man from the West Bank Palestinian city of Hebron, not an Israeli citizen as initially suggested by local media. His identity has yet to be fully confirmed.

>> Hamas tries to dictate new rules in Gaza, but it may be misjudging Israel ■ Netanyahu's Gaza test: Will he avoid a war he already called unnecessary? | Analysis ■ Gaza violence: Just another flare-up on the road to a long-term deal ■ In photos: 24 hours of Israel-Gaza violence in 13 photos

Seven Palestinians have been killed in Israeli airstrikes in Gaza over the past 24 hours, according to Palestinian sources. The Israel Air Force struck over a hundred Hamas and Islamic Jihad targets overnight Monday, including an intelligence compound said to be located in the heart of the city next to a school, a mosque and diplomatic facilities.

Iron Dome missiles intercept rockets fired from Gaza, November 13, 2018.
Ilan Assayag

The complex itself houses a kindergarten and a munitions warehouse. The Israeli army said it is used for intelligence gathering, research and development. 

Hamas' Public Security offices were also hit, said the spokesperson.

IAF also fired at a Palestinian said to be a member of a group launching rockets in the northern Gaza Strip.

An Israeli helicopter also struck "a number of suspects" trying to cross the border fence in the north of the Strip, the spokesperson added.

A senior Air Force officer said on Tuesday that the airstrikes Monday overnight were "completely different from anything we've known in the past. These are targets of high-rise buildings in city centers."

According to the officer, such targets were only struck twice during the entire campaign of 2014's Operation Protective Edge. "Just tonight, we've hit four" of these targets, he said.

"We've learned how to attack these targets at the heart of residential neighborhoods and obliterate them without killing anyone in the strike. We uphold our values, we're not fighting against civilians," said the officer, adding they were acting to "exact a price from the other side." 

A ball of fire above the building housing the Hamas-run television station al-Aqsa TV in the Gaza Strip during an Israeli air strike, November 12, 2018.

Palestinians reports claim that a man who was killed during the Israeli strike was 26-year-old Khaled Sultan, a farmer, and not part of a group launching rockets.

Another Palestinian report Tuesday says an Israeli helicopter opened fire on a group of people east of Gaza City, claiming one was killed and several were wounded. 

The man killed was Mussab Hus, 23, Palestinian reports said.

Hamas' military wing spokesman said Monday that Be'er Sheva and Ashdod would be targeted next if "Israel persisted in its aggression." The Islamic Jihad echoed the statement, saying Gaza factions have the capacity to continue their offensive.

Senior Hamas official Husan Badran said Tuesday that "if Netanyahu is interested in ending this round, he must fire [Defense Minister] Lieberman, who in his foolish condoct caused the escalation."

Fragments from a rocket fired at southern Israel from Gaza, November 13, 2018.
Eliyahu Hershkovitz

Earlier Tuesday, the Israeli army reinforced Armored Corps and Infantry units near the Strip, the IDF Spokesperson's Unit said.

Following a situation assessment, the Israeli army eased security restrictions for residents of southern Israel, including school activity within sheltered institutions. People are allowed to leave bomb shelters, but were instructed to remain in their vicinity.

Schools will be closed in most major southern Israeli cities, including Be'er Sheva, Sderot, Ashkelon, Kiryat Malachi, Kiryat Gat and Ashdod. Students in regional councils Sha'ar Hanegev, Eshkol, Merhcavin and Sedot Hanegev will also not attend school.

A rocket fell in Eshkol in the yard of the home of Rachel Danzing, 64. "I was in the bomb shelter and lying in bed, I heard that terrible boom, I smelled it and heard everything exploding, glass flying," Danzing told Haaretz.

Also on Tuesday, a neonatal intensive care unit in Barzilai Medical Center in Ashkelon was moved to an underground bomb shelter. 

The office of the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories posted a statement on its Arabic Facebook page, saying: "Hamas and the terrorist organizations in the Gaza Strip are the ones bringing ruin upon Gazans! The persistent launching of rockets at Israel have grave repercussions in the Gaza Strip. Residents of Gaza, terrorism has repercussions."

The victim killed in Ashkelon was found by other civilians buried in the rubble an hour after police and firefighters had already left, in what neighbors described as a "terrible failure" to locate him.

Rescue operations at the building had identified a 60-year-old woman, unconscious with blast wounds and multiple injuries, around 40 minutes after the house was hit, but had altogether missed the other casualties.

The other victims were spotted by a man who had come to take pictures of the damage one hour after the hit.

Israel Police said comprehensive searches were conducted by emergency and rescue forces, "sometimes while risking their lives, in dozens of sites where rockets fell in the south, with their primary objective being to save human lives and prevent them being harmed."

The statement emphazised that during the searches, the structure was under the immediate threat of collapse, due to gas canisters catching fire.

Israel came under a heavy barrage of rocket fire from the Gaza Strip on Monday, a day after a flare-up in which an Israeli officer and seven Palestinians were killed.

An anti-tank missile launched from Gaza hit a bus in southern Israel, severely wounding a 19-year-old soldier.

The soldier was evacuated to Soroka Medical Center in Be'er Sheva along with the 25-year-old driver, who suffered from shock.

The projectiles fired from the Strip hit Israel in a number of locations, including in Sderot, where several people suffered light injuries from shrapnel, and Netivot, where a house took a direct hit. Israeli emergency services said a total of nine people sustained light injuries from shrapnel.