UN chief urges Hamas to stop arson attacks after Gaza violence
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UN chief urges Hamas to stop arson attacks after Gaza violence

Antonio Guterres says ‘imperative’ for both sides to ‘urgently step back from the brink of another devastating conflict’

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres speaks during a press conference after his meeting with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov in Moscow, on June 21, 2018. (AFP Photo/Yuri Kadobnov)
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres speaks during a press conference after his meeting with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov in Moscow, on June 21, 2018. (AFP Photo/Yuri Kadobnov)

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres called on Hamas Saturday to stop its cross-border arson attacks to avoid “another devastating conflict” in Gaza, after resurgent violence over the weekend saw Palestinian snipers kill an Israeli solider, sparking a wave of IDF airstrikes in the Strip.

“I am gravely concerned over the dangerous escalation of violence in Gaza and southern Israel,” Guterres said in a statement. “It is imperative that all sides urgently step back from the brink of another devastating conflict.”

“I call on Hamas and other Palestinian militants to cease the launching of rockets and incendiary kites and provocations” along the border fence separating Israel from Gaza, Guterres said, adding that Israel “must exercise restraint to avoid further inflaming the situation.”

He encouraged all parties to work with the UN to find a peaceful solution to the crisis, saying that it endangered lives on both sides while aggravating the “humanitarian catastrophe” in Gaza.

Diplomats at the UN said there had not yet been a call for an urgent Security Council meeting to find ways to lower tensions. A regular monthly meeting on the Middle East is on the council’s agenda for Tuesday.

Guterres’s statement came hours after Hamas rulers said they had accepted a cease-fire ending the massive Israeli onslaught on terrorist positions in Gaza, once again pulling the sides back from the brink of a full-fledged war.

A picture taken on July 20, 2018, shows the explosions from an Israeli bombardment in Khan Younis in the southern Gaza Strip. (AFP Photo/Said Khatib)

Israel and Hamas have fought three such wars over the past decade and the ruling terrorist group agreed to the second truce in a week under heavy Egyptian and international pressure.

Israel says it has no interest is engaging in another war with Hamas, but says it will no longer tolerate the Gaza terror group’s campaign of flying the incendiary devices into Israel.

On Friday night, a Palestinian sniper killed IDF Staff Sgt. Aviv Levi — the first casualty it has sustained in Gaza in four years — and Israel unleashed an offensive it says destroyed more than 60 Hamas targets, including three battalion headquarters. Four Palestinians were killed, of which Hamas said three were its fighters.

“The attack delivered a severe blow to the Hamas’ training array, command and control abilities, weaponry, aerial defense and logistic capabilities along with additional military infrastructure,” the Israeli military said in a statement, adding that the strikes “will intensify as necessary.”

Two Palestinians help fly a ‘fire kite’ from the Gaza Strip into Israeli territory during mass demonstrations along the security fence on June 8, 2018. (Israel Defense Forces)

In a brief statement early Saturday, Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum said the movement accepted the ceasefire brokered by Egyptian and UN officials and that calm had been restored. Later, the Israeli military announced a return to civilian routine along the volatile border.

Channel 10 news reported the ceasefire came after Egypt warned the Palestinian terrorist group that Israel would launch a war “in two hours” if they responded to the retaliatory strikes in Gaza. The report said Egypt threatened to impose sanctions on Hamas if it did not end the cross-border arson attacks.

The ceasefire largely held throughout Saturday, though Israeli tanks twice carried out reprisal strikes at Hamas observation posts inside the Strip.

The IDF 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 photo released on July 21, 2018, shows Staff Sgt. Aviv Levi of the IDF’s Givati Brigade, who was killed by sniper fire from Gaza on July 20. (Israel Defense Forces)

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.

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