The military wing of Hamas has said it agreed to an Egyptian-brokered ceasefire with Israel, after three days of bloodshed in and around Gaza.
The statement late on Wednesday came after three days of violence in which eight Palestinians were killed while fighters have fired scores of rockets Israel, one of which slammed into a border police outpost, wounding four.
“In response to the Egyptian efforts to try and stop the aggression on our people, we at Al-Qassam Brigades and all resistance factions declare our commitment to stop this round of confrontation, as long as [Israel] commits to stopping its crimes,” said a statement from Ezzedine al-Qassam Brigades.
The statement noted the Brigades had fired 96 rockets and nine mortars across the border during the recent wave of violence, in a rare show of force from the group that had been observing a de facto truce on rocket attacks.
“Our confrontation with the enemy in this round was at the minimal level of fire and responses, this is a message that the [Israeli] leaders should understand very well,” said the statement.
As the violence rumbled on, a senior Gaza official had told the AFP news agency that Egypt was in contact with Israel and the militant groups in a bid to restore calm.
“The Palestinian factions are ready to return to the calm as long as Israel stops its attacks,” he said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
Prior to the al-Qassam statement, two Palestinian youths were wounded in an airstrike on a Hamas training site in northern Gaza. A second attack at another Hamas training camp in Nuseirat in the centre of the territory left no casualties.
The Israeli military said its aircraft “targeted two terror sites in the northern Gaza Strip. Direct hits were confirmed.”
“The targeting is in response to over 75 rockets that were fired at Israel during the past three days,” it said.
An Israeli police spokeswoman said on Wednesday that 58 rockets and mortars hit southern Israel. She added that eight people were being treated for shock.
In an earlier Israeli airstrike at a farm in the Zeitun neighbourhood, just east of Gaza City, 14-year-old Moamen al-Adam was killed and his father seriously wounded, medics said. Another two people were also wounded.
An Israeli military spokeswoman said that “during the day, rockets were fired at Israel from a populated civilian area in the northern Gaza Strip”.
“This afternoon Israeli army aircraft targeted a rocket launching squad in this area,” she said.
Earlier on Wednesday, a missile strike on a motorcycle in the southern border city of Rafah killed 21-year-old Ghaleb Ermilat, whom locals said was a member of the military component of the Islamist movement Hamas which rules the territory.
The Israeli military said he was a “global jihad operative” who was behind a deadly ambush along the Israeli-Egyptian border on Monday morning that killed an Israeli civilian and sparked a firefight in which two of the gunmen were killed.
A third is believed to have fled back to Sinai.
The army said that besides Ermilat, another “global jihad terror operative” involved in Monday’s ambush was seriously wounded in the raid, naming him as Mohammed Rashdan, a Rafah resident born in 1984.
It said Ermilat and Rashdan were members of Tawhid wal Jihad, a “global jihad terror movement, that is responsible for ongoing terror attacks against Israeli civilians and soldiers”.
“Rashdan’s terror activities included weapon transfers, supplying explosive devices to terror operatives, firing rockets at Israel, sniper and mortar fire, and smuggling terror operatives to and from Gaza,” the army said in a statement.
Ermilat and Rashdan had planned the ambush and were “actively involved in planning another attack,” it said.
On Tuesday, a previously unknown Islamist group claimed responsibility for the ambush in a video carried a US-based monitoring service, SITE Intelligence.
Made by the “Mujahedeen Shura Council in the Environs of Jerusalem”, the clip showed two gunmen standing in front of al-Qaeda’s black flag, saying they were poised to carry out an attack against Israel.
One claimed to be from Egypt, while the other said he was from Saudi Arabia.
Israel’s chief of general staff Lieutenant General Benny Gantz warned on Wednesday that the army would respond to the recent surge in militant activity.
“The army is ready, and stands powerful and prepared to continue react and initiate, and provide a response for every threat at any time,” he said at the graduation ceremony for officer cadets.