UNITED NATIONS - A flare-up of violence along the Israel-Gaza border subsided Wednesday as Palestinian officials said an Egyptian-mediated cease-fire had been reached with Israel.
Israeli officials did not confirm an agreement, but said if mortar and rocket fire from militants in Gaza stopped, then Israel would halt its response attacks.
“It is imperative that this period of calm be preserved at all costs,” said Nickolay Mladenov, the U.N.’s special coordinator for the Middle East peace process. “Everyone has a responsibility to do their part to de-escalate and step back from the brink in the interests of their own people and the future of their own children,” he added.
Mladenov spoke at an emergency meeting Wednesday of the U.N. Security Council, called by the United States to discuss dozens of rockets and mortars fired by Hamas and allied militant groups from Gaza into Israel since Monday. Israel’s Iron Dome missile defense system intercepted the projectiles and no Israeli casualties were reported.
“Such attacks are completely unacceptable,” Mladenov said. “The firing of rockets and mortars against civilians cannot be justified under any circumstances.”
Israel Defense Forces responded with 65 airstrikes on Hamas and Islamic Jihad targets in Gaza and destroyed a tunnel near the Kerem Shalom crossing point.
Mladenov warned that this is “the most serious escalation since the 2014 conflict between Hamas and Israel.” The U.N. envoy has given a series of warnings in recent months that the two parties could be on the brink of another armed conflict.
“Hamas openly claims responsibility for this attack,” U.S. Ambassador Nikki Haley said. “They do so proudly; their only regret is that the attack did not kill anyone.”
Haley urged council members to condemn Hamas and she supported Israel’s right to defend itself.
Kuwait’s envoy Mansour Al-Otaibi has put forward a draft resolution calling for an international protection force for Palestinians. He urged council members to support the measure when it is put to a vote.
Israel’s envoy, however, called on the council to designate Hamas as a terrorist organization.
“It is high time that the international community combat Hamas with the same tools and vigor that it uses against al-Qaida and ISIS,” Danny Danon told the council, using an acronym for the militant group Islamic State.
Palestinian envoy Riyad Mansour said he hopes the cease-fire will hold, and he urged the council to act to de-escalate the situation and prevent its descending into more violence.
Tensions along the border have been high for two months, with Palestinians holding protests calling for a right to return to land they fled or were forced to leave when Israel was created in 1948. They have also rallied against a blockade of Gaza that has been in place for more than a decade, as well as the relocation of the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.
Israeli forces have killed at least 115 Palestinians since the end of March, drawing criticism for the use of force. Israel has blamed the militant group Hamas for provoking violence and says it has acted to protect the border.