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Egypt brokers ceasefire between Israel-Gaza as Friday protests cancelled: report

A ceasefire has reportedly been reached between Israel and Gaza after an overnight escalation that saw Israel's Defense Forces (IDF) striking 100 targets in the Gaza Strip overnight in response to two rockets were fired at Tel Aviv.

Rocket sirens blared through central Israel on Thursday night for the first time since the Gaza war in 2014, sparking fears of war in what the Israeli army now believes was an accidental launch.

"Fighter planes, combat helicopters and (other) aircrafts attacked some 100 terrorist targets of the Hamas terrorist organization throughout the Gaza Strip. Among the terrorist targets was the offices of the Hamas headquarters in the Rimal neighborhood in central Gaza City," IDF said in a statement.

Immediately after the rocket sirens sounded in Tel Aviv, Prime Minister and Defense Minister Benjamin Netanyahu with his defense chiefs in the IDF headquarters to discuss the response.

Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai told public television one of the Gaza rockets "apparently fell into the sea, the other hit somewhere but not in Tel Aviv."

In Gaza, both rulers Hamas and Islamic Jihad, an allied group, issued statements denying any responsibility for the attack, which came just over three weeks ahead of Israel's April 9 election.

A statement from Hamas's military wing said the group was "not responsible for the rockets fired tonight towards the enemy," adding that it occurred during a visit by an Egyptian security delegation to Gaza.

Israel, however, said Hamas was indeed responsible for the rocket attacks on Tel Aviv.

"We can confirm that the rockets fired from Gaza at Tel Aviv earlier tonight were launched by the Hamas terrorist organization," IDF said in a statement.

Israel's Iron Dome missile defense system did not intercept the rockets from Gaza, according to the IDF.

"No interceptions were made by aerial defense systems. No damage or injuries were reported. There are no special instructions for the civilian home front,” the statement said. 

-Postponing demonstrations-

Following the overnight tensions, the organizing committee for Gaza’s March of Return cancelled Friday protests along the Israel-Gaza border for the first time since they began almost exactly a year ago.

Since the protests began on March 30, 2017, Gazans have demonstrated along the border with Israel every single Friday. This week’s cancellation marks a significant development in Israel-Gaza relations, reportedly reached as part of a ceasefire agreement brokered by Egypt.

In exchange for the ceasefire said to have gone into effect at 8 AM local time, Israel demanded that no Gazans turn out to the border on Friday, Palestinian sources claimed.

The Gaza-based Palestinian Islamic Jihad released a statement on Friday insisting the militant group was "committed to a ceasefire agreement" and Egyptian mediation with Israel.

The March of Return organizing committee said in a statement that the march was cancelled to prevent further escalation and Palestinian casualties.

The often violent protests demand Palestinian refugees and their descendants be allowed to return to former homes now inside Israel as well as the lifting of the Israeli blockade on the enclave.

Though no official announcement has yet been made by Israel or Gaza, Egyptian mediators told Palestinian sources on Friday that a cease-fire had been reached and was already in effect.

The last rocket sirens sounded in Israel’s border communities shortly after 7 AM, with the last Israeli strikes reported in Gaza before 5 AM.

Palestinian sources claimed the launch was accidental, caused by a new Hamas militant recruit who was not yet properly trained and "had not read his manual."

-Israeli politicians react-

After the rocket attacks on Tel Aviv, two senior Israeli cabinet minister called for the renewal of targeted killings of Hamas leaders.

Education Minister Naftali Bennett called on the government to prepare a plan to defeat Hamas while urging “a relentless pursuit and systematic wiping out of the Hamas leaders.”

It doesn’t matter who is behind the attack this evening, Hamas is responsible. The time has come to defeat Hamas once and for all. No more shooting at dunes without hitting the enemy, but a relentless pursuit and systematic wiping out of Hamas leaders,” Bennett said.

On Friday, Bennett called the overnight response by Israel "pathetic".

"I have to tell the truth - I can not imagine that Putin would have explained to the Russians after firing missiles at Moscow that the enemy did it by mistake. I have a message: In order for missiles to fire on Tel Aviv, someone has to set up a launcher, load the launcher, someone has to direct the launcher, and someone who does all these things is simply not afraid of Israel," Bennett said.

The Education Minister however called Netanyahu a "good prime minister and statesman" but that as defense minister :he ran a security policy vis-a-vis Hamas and the terrorists who failed miserably and laugh at us. It's not serious."

"It's time for a 180-degree reverse policy. There are no more excuses. I call on the prime minister to lead a strong campaign against Hamas, and if he does not know how to do it, to give someone else the security portfolio so that we can finish the job."

Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon also said he supports the renewal of targeted killings, saying “no one should have immunity.”

“The incident this evening is very serious and there will be a response as necessary. No one has immunity. All the organizations in the Strip are terrorist organizations and that is how they should be treated. I will support a return to the policy of targeted assassinations because in my view, there is no immunity for a person in the Hamas leadership or any other terror group,” Kahlon tweeted.

Former Defense Minister and leader of Yisrael Beitenu, Avigdor Liberman, echoed Bennett and Kahlon while slamming the government for allowing the transfer of money from Qatar to Hamas in Gaza.

Both leaders from Blue and White alliance called for stronger actions against Hamas in Gaza.

Benny Gantz said “a significant and severe response” was required “otherwise it will be impossible to renew our deterrence.”

Yair Lapid called the rocket attacks on Tel Aviv "an unacceptable act of aggression. No government would accept attacks like this and Israel is no different. We will not tolerate any breach of our sovereignty and have the absolute right to respond with force and protect the people of Israel.”

US President Donald Trump's Middle East envoy, Jason Greenblatt quickly condemned the attacks, saying “Hamas violently suppresses its own people demonstrating against Hamas’ rule & failures today and NOW fires rockets at cities in Israel.”

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is yet to comment on the Thursday's rocket attacks.

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Iran is playing with fire.

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