Smoke rises from an explosion caused by an Israeli airstrike in Gaza City, Thursday, Aug. 9, 2018. Image Credit: AP

Gaza: Calm returned to Gaza and neighbouring areas of Israel Friday after a deadly flare-up between Palestinian militants and the Israeli military, but fresh protests could test the embryonic truce.

Palestinian political sources said agreement had been reached to end all rocket fire into Israel and air strikes on Gaza from around midnight (2100 GMT) on Thursday.

There was no Israeli confirmation but there were no fresh strikes overnight.

Thursday had seen extensive Israeli raids and Hamas firing more than 180 rockets in retaliation on Wednesday night.

Three Palestinians were killed in the Israeli strikes, including a mother and her year-old daughter, while seven Israelis were wounded by Palestinian rocket fire as hundreds took refuge in bomb shelters.

It was one of the most serious flareups since the 2014 Gaza war and followed months of escalating tensions.

Late on Thursday, an Israeli air raid flattened a five-storey building which hosted a cultural centre in Gaza City but which the army said was used by Hamas security forces.

The Israeli security cabinet and the Hamas leadership convened separately late on Thursday, with the truce offer brokered by Egypt and the United Nations on the table.

Neither Israel nor Hamas officially confirmed any truce had gone into effect, although that has also been the case with previous informal arrangements.

It would be the third such truce in a month.

Reserve general Doron Almog, former head of Israel’s southern command which deals with Gaza, told army radio on Friday morning that the next 24 hours would be crucial.

“We are closer to an arrangement than we have been in the past because Hamas’s interest in a deal is greater than its wish for escalation,” he said.

Meanwhile, Palestinian protesters were expected to gather along the Israeli border on Friday evening, as they have every week since late March.

The protests are calling for an end to the decade-long Israeli blockade of Gaza and the return of Palestinian refugees to their ancestral homes inside Israel, which they fled or were expelled from whe Israel was created in 1948.

Israel says its blockade is necessary to isolate Hamas although critics say it amounts to collective punishment of two million people.

More than one hundred peaceful protesters have been shot dead by Israeli snipers since protests began on March 30.

UN officials accuse Israel of using excessive force.