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Israel and Hamas seem to pull back from the brink of war after violence flares

Israel and militant group Hamas have agreed to a tentative truce to calm tensions that have risen dramatically in recent days and the last 24 hours. Militants have fired rockets and mortars toward Israeli towns, while Israeli jets pounded targets in Gaza. Foreign affairs correspondent Nick Schifrin reports that when wars in Gaza start, it’s often civilians who pay the biggest price.

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  • William Brangham:

    Just in the last few hours, the militant group Hamas, which controls Gaza, and Israel have agreed to a truce.

    Tensions had been running extremely high. Militants in Gaza have been firing rockets and mortars at Israeli towns. And Israeli jets then fired on targets in Gaza.

    In the last decade, Hamas and Israel fought three wars. For now, both sides seemed to have pulled back from a fourth.

    Foreign affairs correspondent Nick Schifrin looks at the last 24 hours there and begins his story in Gaza City on a tense morning.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    In one of the densest places on the planet, an Israeli airstrike hits a single building. On a busy Gaza City street, massive bombs dropped by U.S.-made jets shake the ground.

    Since yesterday, Israel's launched more than 150 strikes on Gaza, as Hamas militants release video of rockets they fire from Gaza into Israel. Hamas has fired more than 180 of the often crude rockets aimed toward nearby Israeli towns. It's been four years, the last Gaza war, since the area has been this tense.

    In Israel, the sound of those rockets, and the Israelis firing back, can be terrifying. Fearful families wedge themselves behind dumpsters, and try and reassure frightened children.

    In Sderot, one of the Israeli towns closest to the Gaza border, a city worker cleans up a sidewalk hit by a Hamas rocket. Another left pockmarks on the wall of this apartment complex. More than 25 Israelis have been injured.

    Some Gazans have launched incendiary kites over the border, burning nearby fields, including Alon (ph), who didn't give his last name.

  • Man:

    What you see around us is the reality of our lives. Every day, we have like tens of fires erupting because of balloons and kites sent from Gaza. And the message or the purpose of it is to terrorize our lives.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    Often, Israelis try to find space in overcrowded, hardened shelters. In Gaza, there are no shelters.

    One strike hit this house. The family who lives here says a 23-year-old woman and her daughter, Bayan Khamas (ph), were killed. Another strike targeted a car and its driver, identified by both sides as a Hamas leader. His family said goodbye in the local morgue.

    And another bomb destroyed a water treatment facility, the huge pipe that used to help treat water now replaced with raw sewage; 97 percent of Gaza's water is undrinkable, and every day sewage flows into the Mediterranean. There are only four hours of electricity every day.

    The humanitarian crisis and the frayed nerves from increased airstrikes have overwhelmed Gazans, says Gaza researcher for the humanitarian organization Gisha, Mohammed Azaiza.

  • Mohammed Azaiza:

    I can't describe the fear in my children when they are hearing the bombs. I can't describe the crying and the fear in my wife's eyes.

    It takes us back to what happened in 2014 and 2010 and 2009. We remember also the crying of the children. Also, we remember the huge destruction of the home in Gaza City. This is what we remember when we hear the airstrikes.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    But, for Israel, the barrage of Hamas rockets could go unanswered, says ambassador Danny Danon, Israel's permanent representative to the U.N.

  • Danny Danon:

    I think what we are doing now is a minimum in order to stop the rockets from flying into Israel.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    But Israel doesn't want war. And Hamas, despite wanting to look strong, also doesn't want war. So both sides agreed with international mediators to a tentative truce.

  • Danny Danon:

    If it will be quiet in Israel, it will be quiet in Gaza. That's what we told all those people who try to mediate and to bring tranquility to the region. We have no reason to seek escalation in the region. We want the Israeli children to enjoy their summer vacation. We want the Palestinians in Gaza to also enjoy their summer vacation.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    The long-term humanitarian crisis in Gaza remains, but, right now, Hamas and Israel are focused on the short term, hoping tonight stays quiet to avoid having to fight a fourth war.

    For the "PBS NewsHour," I'm Nick Schifrin.

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