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Gaza ceasefire largely holds after day of intense Israel-Hamas fighting

by Reuters /  / Updated 
Image: PALESTINIAN-ISRAEL-GAZA-UNREST
A picture taken on Saturday shows smoke plumes rising following an Israeli air strike in Gaza City.MAHMUD HAMS / AFP - Getty Images

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GAZA — A ceasefire between Israel and Gaza militant groups appeared to be holding on Sunday, ending the most intensive flare-up in violence around the Palestinian enclave since a 2014 war.

In a day of fierce fighting on Saturday, Israel carried out dozens of air strikes in Gaza, killing two people, and Gaza militants fired more than 100 rockets across the border, wounding three people in a southern Israeli town.

The ceasefire, the second between the two sides to be brokered by Egypt this year after a previous day-long flare-up in May, came into force late on Saturday.

The Israeli military said that in the initial hours of the ceasefire militants fired two rockets towards Israel, of which one was intercepted by its Iron Dome system. There were no reports of an Israeli counter-attack in Gaza.

Some hours afterwards, militants fired another two mortar bombs towards Israel, which responded by striking the mortar tube used in the attack, the military said.

Weekly clashes at the Israel-Gaza border have kept tensions at a high for months. More than 130 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli forces during protests at the frontier held every week since March, including a teenager on Friday, Gaza medics said.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Saturday's attacks targeted Gaza's dominant Hamas Islamists, whom Israel accuses of stoking violence with the "Great March of Return" demonstrations, which have included attempts to breach Israel's border fence.

Netanyahu has faced public pressure to take action against the launching of incendiary kites and balloons from Gaza that have burned crops and scrubland in southern Israel.

Israel's Intelligence Minister Israel Katz said the air strikes were meant to put an end to such attacks but should not be seen as the start of a military campaign against the Palestinian territory of 2 million, devastated by seven weeks of war with Israel four years ago.

Netanyahu also said on Sunday that he discussed Syria and Iran with President Donald Trump ahead of the latter's meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

In remarks to the Israeli cabinet, Netanyahu said he spoke by phone on Saturday with Trump and that the president reiterated his commitment to Israel. In Helsinki on Monday, Trump will meet Putin, Damascus' big-power backer and a regular interlocutor with Tehran.

Thousands were expected to attend the funerals on Sunday of two Palestinian teens killed in one of the Israeli attacks.

A father and son were killed in an explosion in a building in Gaza on Sunday. But no blame was cast on Israel and police said they had launched an investigation into the cause of the blast.

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