Armed Gaza factions said to agree to temporarily rein in border violence

Hamas official quoted saying Friday protests will go forward, but participants will not burn tires, attack troops or launch arson balloons in light of efforts to reach truce

Illustrative: A Palestinian uses a slingshot to hurl stones during clashes on a beach near the maritime border with Israel, in Beit Lahia in the northern Gaza Strip, on October 29, 2018. (Mahmud Hams/AFP)
Illustrative: A Palestinian uses a slingshot to hurl stones during clashes on a beach near the maritime border with Israel, in Beit Lahia in the northern Gaza Strip, on October 29, 2018. (Mahmud Hams/AFP)

Armed factions in the Gaza Strip have agreed to temporarily rein in violence along the security fence with Israel ahead of Friday’s weekly border clashes, a Hamas official told the Ynet news site on Thursday.

The unnamed senior official quoted by the site said groups in the Hamas-controlled territory agreed to stop protesters from burning tires, throwing firebombs and approaching the border during rallies until Sunday, in light of the latest Egyptian-efforts to reach a ceasefire with Israel.

He said the protesters would also refrain from launching incendiary devices toward Israel over the weekend.

According to the official, Friday’s “March of Return” protests would take place as scheduled, but would be nonviolent.

“Friday’s events will be quiet,” an official from the committee in charge of organizing the marches told AFP Thursday, on condition of anonymity. The committee is technically independent from Hamas, but includes representatives allied to the terror group.

The official said the agreement to quieten the border Friday “will give an opportunity for the success of the Egyptian efforts to (achieve) calm and lift the siege.”

Following a meeting of Hamas and Islamic Jihad leaders Thursday, the groups vowed that protests would continue until Israel lifts its blockade on the Palestinian enclave.

The statement by the groups also said the rallies would be “peaceful,” though they have always claimed that the intense riots at the border are nonviolent.

Egyptian intelligence officials entered the Gaza Strip on Thursday through the Erez crossing to meet with Hamas leaders, the Hamas-linked Palestinian Information Center reported. It was the latest in a series of such visits in the past month.

Tensions between Israel and terror groups in the Strip skyrocketed in recent weeks as efforts to reach a long-term ceasefire brokered by Egypt and the United Nations faltered.

Palestinian Hamas top leader Ismail Haniyeh waves to protesters during a protest at the Gaza Strip’s border with Israel, Oct. 12, 2018. (AP Photo/Khalil Hamra)

Saturday saw a large-scale flareup between Israel and the Iran-backed Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) terror group — the second-largest organization in the Strip after Hamas — in which dozens of rockets and mortar shells were fired at southern Israel. In response, the IDF bombed some 90 targets in the Gaza Strip.

On Sunday, Israel killed three Gazan teens in an airstrike on what the military said was a group planting explosives along the border. PIJ vowed to avenge their deaths.

Hours before the Hamas official announced the temporary cession in violence on Thursday, an explosive device apparently flown over the border tied to a balloon was found outside a kindergarten in southern Israel, and a security jeep went up in flames due to an incendiary object launched from the Strip. There were no injuries.

Egyptian mediators have been working intensively to maintain calm, and also hope to bring about national reconciliation between Hamas, which seized Gaza by force in 2007, and the West Bank-based administration of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.

Hamas says the blockade must be lifted first and has vowed to continue the weekly protests, in which more than 160 Palestinians have been killed since March. The terror group has acknowledged that dozens of the dead were its members. A Palestinian sniper killed an Israeli soldier in July.

Illustrative. This picture taken on October 19, 2018 in Nahal Oz, from the Israeli side of the border with the northeast of the Gaza Strip, shows balloons carrying an alleged incendiary device launched by Palestinian protesters. (Photo by JACK GUEZ / AFP)

The protests, dubbed the “Great March of Return,” have mostly involved the burning of tires and rock-throwing along the security fence, but have also seen shooting attacks, bombings and attempted border breaches as well as the launching of incendiary balloons and kites into Israel.

Earlier this week, Egyptian intelligence officials arrived in Gaza for the latest round of talks amid reports that Hamas was demanding that Israel transfer $15 million in Qatari aid each month in exchange for quiet along the border.

The Haaretz daily reported Wednesday that Israel agreed to transfer the funds to Hamas after it negotiated with Qatar directly and received assurances it would only be used to pay the salaries of civil servants.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu this week said he welcomed mediation from the United Nations and Egypt to prevent a humanitarian collapse in the Gaza Strip.

Adam Rasgon and Judah Ari Gross contributed to this report.

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