Israel, Palestinian militants declare Gaza truce

STORY: Israel and a group of Palestinian militants declared a truce late on Sunday, raising hopes of an end to the most serious flare-up on the Gaza frontier in more than a year.

Both Israel and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad group also thanked Egypt for mediating the truce.

At a news conference in Iran, the leader of the militant group, Ziyad al-Nakhala said Israel had "aimed to break Islamic Jihad, but we didn’t break," adding that they had only become more powerful.

He also said the ceasefire deal involved a commitment to secure the release of another of the group’s leaders, Bassam al-Saadi, who was arrested last Monday.

Israeli and Egyptian officials did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

The three-day clashes began on Friday, when Israel launched what it called pre-emptive strikes against an anticipated Islamic Jihad attack, after Israeli forces arrested al-Saadi in the occupied West Bank.

In response, Islamic Jihad fired hundreds of rockets at Israel.

The clashes continued through Sunday, though largely tapered off by the time the truce came into effect shortly before midnight local time.

Gaza officials said at least 44 Palestinians had been killed, almost half of them civilians and including children.

While rockets from Gaza sent Israeli residents in cities including Tel Aviv and Ashkelon running to shelters.

Israel said its Iron Dome interceptor shot down rockets just west of the city.

The military said others had fallen short, causing several Gaza fatalities.

But Hamas, the governing Islamist group in the Gaza Strip, said all the Palestinian deaths were caused by the Israeli strikes.

A more powerful force than Iranian-backed Islamic Jihad, Hamas has stayed out of this conflict so far.

In a statement, U.S. President Joe Biden welcomed the truce and called for an investigation into civilian casualties.