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story.lead_photo.caption Smoke rises from an explosion caused by an Israeli airstrike on Gaza City, early Saturday, Oct. 27, 2018. Israeli aircraft struck several militant sites across the Gaza Strip early Saturday shortly after militants fired rockets into southern Israel, the Israeli military said. (AP Photo/Adel Hana)

GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip -- Palestinian militants ceased rocket attacks from Gaza into Israel, and relative calm prevailed Saturday afternoon after a nightlong exchange of fire that prompted Israeli threats against Iranian forces in Syria.

The Islamic Jihad group, a militant faction that operates in the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip and has close ties to Iran and Syria, said it agreed to Egyptian mediation efforts and halted the rocket fire, the heaviest to emanate from Gaza in months.

"The Egyptian efforts led to understandings to restore calm to Gaza Strip. We appreciate the Egyptian endeavor and hope for all kinds of [Israeli] aggression to stop," said Khaled al-Batsh, an Islamic Jihad official.

Hamas, the larger militant group that controls Gaza, accused Israel of resorting to military escalation "to evade obligations" of a comprehensive cease-fire that Hamas has long sought. Hamas wants the deal to end a crippling Israeli-Egyptian blockade on Gaza.

There has been no immediate comment from Israel on a truce. Israel said its fighter jets struck dozens of targets across Gaza, and it accused Iranian forces in Damascus, Syria, of orchestrating the rocket barrages.

The threats toward Iranian forces in Syria added a new dimension to what was already the heaviest fighting between Israel and Gaza's militants in several weeks. Opening a new front in Syria could put Israel in open confrontation with heavily armed forces from Iran and the Hezbollah militant group, along with recently deployed Russian anti-aircraft systems.

Lt. Col. Jonathan Conricus, an Israeli military spokesman, said 34 rockets had been fired at Israel throughout the night. Israel's Iron Dome rocket-defense system intercepted 13 rockets, two landed in Gaza, and the remainder fell in open spaces in southern Israel, he said. In response, Israel hit more than 80 targets in Gaza, he said.

Conricus said Islamic Jihad had fired the rockets under instructions from Iran's Al Quds Force, based in Syria. He said Israel was considering taking action against the Iranians in response.

"We have seen and established a clear link between Gaza and Damascus," he said. "We know that the orders, incentives were given from Damascus with the clear involvement of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Quds Force."

"From our perspective, part of the address by which we will deal with this fire is also in Damascus and the Quds Force," he added. "Our response is not limited geographically."

Iran has sent its forces, along with those of Hezbollah and other Shiite militias, to Syria to back President Bashar Assad in the civil war there. As the war winds down, Israel has repeatedly warned that it will not allow its archenemy Iran to establish a permanent military presence in Syria.

Throughout the seven-year war, Israel has carried out scores of airstrikes in Syria, mostly against suspected Iranian weapons shipments to Hezbollah but also against the Iranians themselves.

But Israel's operations could become much more complicated after Russia's decision to transfer sophisticated S-300 anti-aircraft missiles to Syria.

Russia deployed the missiles after a Russian warplane was shot down over Syrian skies last month. Russia has blamed Israel for the mishap, saying that Syria accidentally shot down the plane while reacting to an Israeli air raid.

Israel and Russia have maintained a hotline to prevent their air forces from coming into contact with one another over Syrian skies. Israeli media have reported that Russia has become less cooperative since the downing of the plane.

The fighting in Gaza followed a bloody day of border unrest Friday.

Egyptian mediators have been trying to prevent a full-blown conflict between Hamas and Israel for months.

Conricus said Israel's targets in Gaza included training camps, weapons-storage facilities and a Hamas security headquarters building. The Coordination of Government Activities in the Territories, an Israeli defense unit that handles Palestinian civilian issues, said a rocket hit an ambulance crossing used to transfer Gazans out of the strip in emergency humanitarian cases.

In Gaza, most of the airstrikes hit open spaces used by militants for training and possibly weapons storage.

But in northern Gaza, the main hospital in the area was damaged after a nearby Hamas training camp was hit, the territory's Health Ministry said. Footage showed cables and wires dropping from collapsed ceilings in the wards.

In Gaza City, an airstrike hit an abandoned, unfinished building, flattening the three-story structure. That building appeared to be the one identified by Israel as a security headquarters.

A Section on 10/28/2018

Print Headline: Gaza militants halt rocket attacks on Israel

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