Israeli military officials said they thwarted a major attack from Gaza hours before a humanitarian cease-fire, brokered by the United Nations, took effect Thursday morning.
The Daily Mail reports that an Israeli airstrike hit a group of 13 Hamas militants just minutes before they entered an underground tunnel in Gaza. It is believed the exit of the tunnel is in the Israeli town of Kibbutz Sufa, a few miles from where the borders of Egypt, Israel and Gaza converge.
After the attack, Israeli officials told residents of the town to stay indoors because it remained unclear if some militants had made it into the tunnel before the attack and still posed a threat.
The military wing of Hamas acknowledged the attack on its website, but said the group of militants were returning from Kibbutz Sufa after “completion of its mission.” The group, claimed by Hamas to have been special forces troops, had already penetrated “enemy lines near Sufa” and had returned home safely, the statement said.
An Israeli military spokesman told the New York Times it was unclear if all the militants had been killed.
The five-hour cease-fire began shortly after the airstrike. The brief truce held for much of the morning. Air raid sirens went off briefly in southern Israel as three mortars landed in open areas. Hamas did not claim responsibility for the mortars and Israel held back return fire despite a warning to retaliate “firmly and decisively” if Hamas did not abide by the break in hostilities.
The cease-fire was the first in 10 days of fighting between the Israelis and Palestinians. It was requested for humanitarian reasons by the United Nations so residents of Gaza could gather food and water as well as repair infrastructure such as water mains and power.
The streets of Gaza City filled with residents who went to their banks to gather money and then go food shopping.
“We are here to get paid. Thank God for the calm and we hope it lasts,” Zakaria Ahmed, 35, told Reuters. “We hope Egypt brings a good truce, we hope the killing will stop and (Gaza's border) crossings will open.”
An Egyptian-brokered cease-fire fell apart earlier this week when the military wing of Hamas rejected its terms. Hamas would like Egypt to put an end to a border blockade on the Gaza border. Doing so is crucial to the welfare of Gaza, Hamas officials assert.
Israeli officials are reportedly traveling to Egypt later on Thursday to continue peace talks to put an end to the recent violence.
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