Gaza truce shaky after Israeli tank responds to reported fence breach

An Israeli tank targeted a Hamas military post in Gaza Saturday morning in retaliation for a breach of the border fence, the Israel Defense Forces said in a statement.

The IDF says “a number of suspects” crossed into Israel from northern Gaza, then returned to the coastal enclave.

The attack came after Hamas claimed international mediators restored a ceasefire between itself and Israel, after an outbreak of violence that left four Palestinians, including three Hamas militants, and an Israeli soldier dead, Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum told CNN.

“Egyptian and international efforts have led to a return to the previous state of calm between the Occupation [a reference to Israel] and the Palestinian factions,” he said.

The UN’s Middle East envoy Nickolay Mladenov oversaw the negotiations.

Israel declined to confirm the ceasefire, but the army said in a statement earlier Saturday that communities near Gaza could return to normal activity.

“After an assessment of the security situation in Southern Command this morning, it was decided upon a full return to a normal civilian routine on the Gaza periphery. There are no further security restrictions this morning,” the Israel Defense Forces said in a statement Saturday.

An Israeli soldier died Friday afternoon from gunshot wounds sustained during protests along the fence that separates Israel and Gaza, the first Israeli military casualty in the conflict between Israel and Hamas since 2014.

The IDF identified the soldier who was killed as Staff Sergeant Aviv Levi, 21, from Petah Tikva.

The IDF responded with tank and artillery fire, killing four Palestinians.

Hamas, the militant group that runs the coastal enclave, said in a Whatsapp message to journalists that three of the four men killed were members of its armed Qassam Brigades.

The IDF said that, in addition to the shooting incident, multiples explosives were thrown at Israeli soldiers during the unrest at the fence.

On Friday evening, the IDF told civilians living near Gaza to stay near bomb shelters as the security situation worsened.

The Israeli air force then launched a series of what it called wide-scale attacks on dozens of Hamas military targets across the coastal enclave.

The IDF said it had succeeded in eliminating a Hamas battalion’s command and control capabilities, a drone warehouse, aerial defense systems and an underground factory, among other sites hit.

Later Friday, the Israeli army said at least three rockets were fired towards Israel from Gaza; two of the launches were intercepted by the Iron Dome aerial defense system.

There were no reports of any casualties from the rocket fire.

Tension along the fence has been simmering for months, at times erupting into violence. Recent weeks have also seen a sharp increase in the number of arson attacks, a low-tech threat to which Israel has struggled to find an answer.

The violence has also stymied international attempts to alleviate conditions for the 2 million people living in Gaza.

Israel has maintained a land, sea and air blockade on the coastal enclave since June 2007, when Hamas took over Gaza.

The blockade effectively locks the more than 2 million Gaza residents inside the territory and is seen by the UN as a major contributor to the deterioration of living conditions there. Israel says it’s a necessary security measure.