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Hamas, Israel Agree to Restore Calm in Gaza

Hamas has said a deal to restore calm in the besieged Gaza Strip has been reached, ending the Israeli onslaught on Hamas positions and other violence that resulted in the deaths of four Palestinians and one Israeli soldier on Friday.

Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum announced early on Saturday morning that the deal, brokered by Egyptian and UN officials, was effective from midnight local time on Friday, Al Jazeera reported.

“We reached [an agreement] to return to the previous state of calm between the [Israeli] occupation and the Palestinian factions,” Barhoum said.

Israel has yet to confirm the agreement, but its army said in a statement on Saturday that communities near Gaza could return to normal activity, according to the Israeli daily Haaretz.

“At the end of an assessment by the southern command this morning it was decided to maintain a full civilian routine in the communities close to the Gaza Strip,” Haaretz quoted the statement as saying.

The deal comes after Israeli forces killed four Palestinians in the Gaza Strip on Friday. Israeli soldiers fired live bullets and tear gas canisters toward Palestinian protesters gathered along the fence with Israel, killing 27-year-old Mohammad Sharif Badwan and wounding 120 others, according to health officials in Gaza.

Hamas also said three of its members were killed earlier in the day after Israel launched large-scale attacks in the southern part of the enclave. Israeli forces claimed the attacks came after one of its soldiers was hit by Palestinian gunmen. They later announced the soldier had succumbed to his wounds, marking the first Israeli military fatality in the area since the 2014 Gaza war.

While it appeared that relative calm had returned to the area on Saturday, Phyllis Bennis, a program director at the US-based Institute for Policy Studies, said it was unlikely that any ceasefire agreement would hold.

“It is important that they use the word calm [in the announcement] and not the word peace,” Bennis told Al Jazeera. “There has been no calm in Gaza for many, many decades… If there is a ceasefire that holds briefly it will not hold for very long I’m afraid.” Friday’s violence came after nearly four months of protests by Palestinians along the fence with Israel.

Palestinians have been protesting every Friday since March 30, demanding their right to return to the homes and land their families were expelled from 70 years ago.

Since the protests began, Israeli forces have killed more than 140 Palestinians in the besieged coastal enclave and wounded more than 16,000 people, according to health officials in Gaza.

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