An unofficial ceasefire reached overnight Friday-Saturday between Israel and Hamas came after Egypt warned the Palestinian terror group that Israel would launch a war “in two hours” if Hamas responded to IDF retaliatory strikes in Gaza following the killing of an IDF soldier by Palestinian sniper fire, Israeli television reported Saturday.
Channel 10 news also reported that Egypt threatened to impose sanctions on Hamas if it does not end the launch of incendiary airborne devices toward Israeli territory.
In return for honoring these conditions, Hamas demanded Israel ease restrictions on the flow of goods into Gaza, the report said. Hamas also called for Egypt to keep open the Rafah border crossing and to press Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas to pay the salaries of PA employees in Gaza.
Abbas has been withholding the salaries as part of the split between Abbas’s Fatah party and Hamas, which seized Gaza from Fatah in 2007. A number of reconciliation agreements have failed to bridge the divide between the sides, including an Egyptian-mediated deal reached in October.
The ceasefire announced by Hamas, which Israel has not confirmed, came into effect around midnight Friday as the escalation in violence along the border raised fears of a wider military conflict.
The Israel Defense Forces said it struck more than 60 Hamas targets Friday in response to sniper fire from the Strip that killed IDF infantryman Aviv Levi, 21, from Petah Tikva. Staff Sgt. Levi was the first Israeli fatality in fighting along the border since the 2014 war.
According to Channel 10, Egypt noted to Hamas that the Israeli strikes were a response to Levi’s killing, and warned that any Hamas response to the strikes would prompt Israel to go to war in two hours.
The Hamas-run health ministry said four Palestinians were killed in Friday’s violence, three of whom were acknowledged as members of the terror group.
While Israel holds Hamas responsible for all violence emanating from Gaza, Hebrew media reported Saturday that defense officials believe the sniper attack that killed Levi was carried out at the initiative of local Hamas operatives and not approved by the terror group’s leadership.
Channel 10 reported that Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh was touring the border at the time of the attack, exposing him to a potential Israeli response.
The ceasefire largely held Saturday, though Israeli tanks twice carried out reprisal strikes at Hamas observation posts.
The army said the first strike was in response to an attempted infiltration of the border fence in northern Gaza, while the second strike came after a flaming balloon launched from the Strip sparked a fire in nearby Kibbutz Nahal Oz.
A senior Israeli diplomatic official told Hebrew-language media that Hamas had vowed to halt airborne arson attacks against Israel going forward. But Hamas sources quoted by Israel Radio on Saturday afternoon denied this.
Nonetheless, Saturday saw the fewest launches of arson kites and balloons in weeks.