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Gaza militant group says 'calm restored' after rocket exchange with Israel

A Palestinian militant group has said that a two-day exchange of rocket strikes with Israel has been ended with a truce. The fighting was the worst witnessed between the two countries since late 2012.

Islamic Jihad - the Palestinian militant group behind this week's rocket attacks on Israel - agreed on Thursday to end the latest spate of fighting with Israel, according to its leader Khaled al-Batch. The head of the militant group said Egyptian officials had helped broker the plan.

"After the Egyptian brothers initiated contacts with us in the past few hours, we agreed to restore…calm," Islamic Jihad leader Khaled al-Batch said on Thursday, adding that the truce went into effect at 2:00 pm local time (1200 UTC).

"As long as the occupation (Israel) honors the calm, we will honor the calm and instructions are being given right now to al-Quds brigades, our military wing, about this understanding," he said.

Officials in Israel have not yet confirmed whether the country agreed to the Egyptian-backed proposal.

An Israeli defense spokesperson told the news agency AFP he was "not familiar" with the agreement and that any future attacks from Gaza would be met with a "very harsh" response from Israel.

On Wednesday and early Thursday, the militant group - which operates independently from the territory's ruling party, Hamas - barraged targets in Israel with over 100 rockets, according to the group's own estimates

. The attack came in revenge for the deaths of three Islamic Jihad fighters who had been killed in an Israeli airstrike the previous day.

In response, Israel shelled at least two launching sites in Gaza and bombed 29 targets in the Gaza Strip.

There were no reports of serious injuries, even though five of the rockets from Gaza hit populated areas. The retaliatory rocket strikes were the largest between Israel and Gaza since 2012, when some 177 Palestinians and six Israelis were killed during an eight-day Israeli offensive against

Hamas militants

.

Cameron condemns attack

The latest escalation in tensions coincided with British Prime Minister David Cameron's visit to the region. During a meeting with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in the West Bank, Cameron condemned the violence.

"We condemn the aggression and all forms of military escalation, including the rockets," Cameron said.

Abbas had also distanced himself from the violence by condemning the aggression. However, late on Wednesday he had demanded that Israel "put an end to its military escalation in the besieged Gaza Strip," according to his spokesperson.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reiterated his country's stance on attacks.

"Our policy in the south is clear. We harm those who try to harm us and respond fiercely to any attack," Netanyahu said.

British Prime Minister Cameron also urged Abbas to make the "difficult" decisions needed to meet the April deadline by which time Israeli and Palestinian negotiators must reach a framework agreement for peace talks.

The talks,

which are being mediated by US Secretary of State John Kerry

, have stalled over Israel's continued construction of settlements in disputed territory. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's recent stipulation that no agreement can move forward without recognizing Israel as a Jewish state has also caused uproar.

Over the weekend, Abbas and

the Arab League

complained about the newly introduced demand.

"We recognized Israel in mutual recognition in the Oslo agreement - why do they now ask us to recognize the Jewishness of the state?" Abbas said. "Why didn't they present this demand to Jordan or Egypt when they signed a peace agreement with them?"

kms/slk (AP, AFP, dpa)

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