JERUSALEM – A deadly flare-up in fighting between Israel and Gaza's militant Hamas group subsided on Thursday after Egypt helped to restore calm ahead of a major Muslim holiday.
Weeks of simmering violence intensified on Tuesday night, when rocket fire from Gaza drew Israeli airstrikes that killed two Palestinian militants. Palestinian militants were angry over a series of Israeli strikes that targeted shadowy jihadists in Gaza. The hostilities came to a boil Wednesday, when militants fired some 80 rockets and mortars at southern Israel, and Israeli aircraft struck Gaza four times.
In all, five Palestinians, including three militants, were killed in the fighting and two foreign laborers in Israel were critically wounded. The fifth Palestinian, a 24-year-old man, died on Thursday of wounds he sustained in an Israeli strike, said Gaza health official Ashraf al-Kidra. It was not known whether he was a militant.
The rocket and mortar fire stopped overnight, though one projectile landed in southern Israel on Thursday morning, causing no damage. The military said it last struck Gaza on Wednesday morning. The violence ebbed as Muslims began preparing for the Eid al-Adha holiday, which begins Friday.
Both sides confirmed Egyptian involvement in ending the fighting.
Under longtime leader Hosni Mubarak, Egypt had played an important role in halting multiple outbreaks of hostilities between Israel and Gaza militants. The new government of Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi who belongs to Hamas' parent movement, the Muslim Brotherhood, kept up the tradition.
Israeli defense official Amos Gilad told Army Radio on Thursday that Egyptian security forces have "a very impressive ability" to convey to the militants that it is in their "supreme interest not to attack."
Hamas spokesman Ayman Taha said Egypt conveyed Israel's desire to contain the violence.
"We said we'll abide by the calm if the occupation abides," he said, referring to Israel. "It happened over the phone with Egyptian intelligence."
Hamas, which has killed hundreds of Israelis in suicide bombings and other attacks, has largely avoided attacks since a devastating Israeli military offensive nearly four years ago. Hundreds of Palestinians, many of them civilians, died in the offensive.
It remains virulently anti-Israel but has sought to keep things quiet as it consolidates control of Gaza, which it seized five years ago during a brief civil war against the rival Fatah movement.
Still, it is under pressure from smaller groups to prove that it remains in confrontation with the Jewish state.
Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman suggested the visit Tuesday of Qatari's leader to Gaza - the first by a head of state to the territory since it came under Hamas rule - emboldened Hamas to clash this week with Israel by bolstering the group's legitimacy.