Hamas and Israel call truce amid high tensions in Jerusalem

Israeli tanks on the border of the Gaza Strip

Hamas 'cannot afford sustained escalation' after crack down on Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt

LAST UPDATED AT 08:49 ON Fri 4 Jul 2014

A truce has been agreed between Hamas and Israel following exchanges of fire along the Gaza Strip border, according to the BBC.

A source from the militant Palestinian group, an offshoot of the Muslim Brotherhood movement, has said that a ceasefire was agreed with the help of Egyptian intelligence officials.

In recent days, dozens of rockets from Gaza have hit southern Israel, which has responded with air strikes. After an especially intense barrage of rocket fire, Israel yesterday sent tanks, artillery and ground forces to the border area, prompting fears of a major escalation of violence.

But the new arrangement appears to have calmed the situation on the ground, says the BBC. Jerusalem correspondent Kevin Connolly says Hamas has been "badly weakened" by the Egyptian military government's moves to crack down on the Muslim Brotherhood at home and "cannot afford a sustained escalation".

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has said he will only act against further rocket attacks. "We are ready for two options in the south. If fire toward our towns in the south ceases, then so shall our actions. The second option is that if fire toward our residents in the south continues, then our bolstered forces there will act forcefully," he said.

The truce comes amid high tensions in Jerusalem ahead of a funeral for murdered Palestinian teenager Mohammed Abu Khiedir.

The discovery of the 16-year-old's burned body sparked two days of clashes between Palestinian protesters and police. Palestinian leaders have blamed Jewish settlers for Khiedir's death, believing it to be an act of revenge for the recent murders of three Israeli teenagers in the West Bank.

Israel blamed Hamas for the murder of the three boys – Naftali Frenkel, Gilad Shaar, both 16, and Eyal Yifrach, 19 – and launched a crackdown on the Islamic militant group in the West Bank, drawing rocket attacks out of Gaza and Israeli air strikes in a near-daily cycle of retaliation.

Clashes break out in Jerusalem after death of Palestinian boy

3 July

Palestinian protesters have clashed with Israeli security forces following a suspected revenge killing of a 16-year-old Arab boy, raising fears of a third intifada.

A badly burned body was found in a forested area of Jerusalem hours after Palestinian teenager Mohammed Abu Khiedir was kidnapped. Relatives said Khiedir, an electrical engineering student at a vocational school, was forced into a car by three men as he waited for early morning prayers at a mosque next to his home on Wednesday.

His abduction followed the discovery of three murdered Israeli boys, who had been missing for almost three weeks.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has accused Jewish settlers of "killing and burning a little boy" and demanded that Israel "hold the killers accountable".

Reports of Khieder's death yesterday sparked street fights between security forces and residents in east Jerusalem, which has been annexed by Israel. Protesters threw firebombs and stones at Israeli police officers and soldiers, who responded with tear gas, rubber bullets and smoke grenades.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who has blamed the murder of the three Israeli boys on Hamas, has called for restraint.

But after the latest round of Middle East peace talks collapsed in April, there is a rising fear that the spiralling violence could trigger a third Palestinian intifada, or uprising, against the Israeli occupation, says the Washington Post.

The first intifada, which began in 1987 and lasted for six years, was marked mainly by civil disobedience and mass demonstrations. The second started in 2000, and was characterised by far greater violence, with an estimated 5,500 Palestinians and 1,100 Israelis killed over the five-year conflict.

US Secretary of State John Kerry issued a statement condemning the "despicable and senseless abduction and murder" of the Palestinian teenager. "At this tense and dangerous moment, all parties must do everything in their power to protect the innocent and act with reasonableness and restraint, not recrimination and retribution," he said.

Deaths of Israeli teens spark suspected revenge attack

2 July

A Palestinian teenager has been kidnapped and may have been killed in a suspected revenge attack for the murder of three Israeli boys. Yesterday, thousands attended the funerals of Naftali Frenkel, Gilad Shaar, both 16, and Eyal Yifrach, 19, whose bodies were discovered in a field following an intense 18-day search. Their disappearance, which follows the collapse of peace talks between Israeli and Palestinian leaders, has tested the already fraught situation in the region, triggering fears of a new cycle of violence in the Middle East. 

Today Israeli army radio revealed that a Palestinian boy, believed to be about 16, was seen being forced into a car in the Arab eastern half of Jerusalem overnight in a "suspected revenge attack". A body was found several hours later in another part of the city, but police are yet to confirm if it is the unnamed Palestinian teen.

What happened to the Israeli boys?

Frenkel, Shaar and Yifrach were last seen on 12 June hitchhiking home at a junction near Hebron in the West Bank. Their disappearance sparked a huge search operation in Palestinian towns and cities across the West Bank, with thousands of homes raided, more than 400 Palestinians arrested and five killed in fighting with Israeli troops. Their bodies were found in a field near the village of Halhoul on Monday evening, not far from where Israeli troops first started searching. An Israeli police spokesman has told the New York Times that the boys appear to have been fatally shot shortly after they got into a car.

Who killed the boys?

Israel has blamed Hamas for the murders and vowed to find those responsible. "They were kidnapped and murdered in cold blood by beasts," Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in an emergency cabinet meeting last night. "Hamas is responsible, and Hamas will pay." Hamas has denied any involvement and claims Israel is using the abductions "story" to justify a war on Palestinians. The group nevertheless paid tribute to the "heroes" behind the kidnapping. Two Hamas men, Marwan Qawasmeh and Amer Abu Aishah, were previously named by Israel as prime suspects. Today a senior Palestine Liberation Organisation official said that Israel was using the murders to "punish a whole nation".

How has Israel reacted to the deaths?

The Israeli army has launched more than 30 air strikes on the Gaza Strip overnight following the discovery of the bodies – although it says the attacks were in response to Palestinian rocket fire. Troops reportedly "blew up" the homes of the two Hamas suspects, Qawasmeh and Aishah, but a military spokesman said they had only used explosives to gain entry to the homes. One Palestinian was also shot dead after throwing an explosive device at Israeli forces early this morning. Some politicians have called for harsher steps against Hamas, including targeted assassinations. A Hamas spokesman said that if Israeli forces "carry out an escalation or a war, they will open the gates of hell on themselves".

What next for the region?

The abduction and deaths of the three boys have pushed the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to its "most precarious point in nearly a decade", says the New York Times. It has also laid bare the fragility of the Palestinian national unity deal struck in April between Hamas and the mainstream Fatah movement, headed by Mahmoud Abbas.

Israel blamed the deal for the break-down of peace talks with Palestinian leaders in April and has again blamed the partnership for the boys' abduction. It claims Palestinian leaders should have done more to prevent such attacks.

But Abbas, who condemned the kidnappings and co-operated with Israel to help find the boys, has also come under fire from Hamas, who have ridiculed him as a traitor.

Before the bodies were discovered, some experts suggested that the kidnapped teenagers might be used in a deal to release Palestinian prisoners. However, no ransom demands were made. Hussein Ibish, a senior fellow at the American Task Force on Palestine, told the Daily Beast that the murders were "likely committed by a faction of Hamas that seeks to discredit [Abbas] and undermine the Hamas-Fatah agreement". · 

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