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The UN Mideast envoy said Tuesday that Israel and Hamas were “minutes away” from another “devastating confrontation” in Gaza on Saturday — a clash averted after UN and Egyptian diplomatic efforts got both sides to “step back from the brink.”

Nickolay Mladenov warned that “unless we begin in earnest the crucial work required to change the current deteriorating dynamics, another explosion is almost a certainty.”

He told the Security Council that he had just returned from Gaza and “the situation is calming down although tensions remain,” warning that the still “perilous” face-off could lead to the fourth war in a decade between Hamas and Israel.

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“Only through the repeated, collective efforts of all sides has another catastrophic escalation been averted over the past weeks,” Mladenov said.

A picture taken on July 20, 2018 shows a fireball exploding in Gaza City during an Israeli airstrike. (AFP Photo/Bashar Taleb)

The latest outbursts of violence followed months of near-weekly violent border protests organized by Gaza’s Hamas rulers. Over 130 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli gunfire since the protests began March 30 — a large number of them members of terror groups.

Israel said its troops were defending the border and accused Hamas of trying to carry out terror attacks under the cover of the protests.

Hamas has said the “March of Return” protests are a demand for a “right of return” for descendants of Palestinian refugees to ancestral homes in what is now Israel — action that would bring about the end of Israel as a Jewish-majority state.

They have also said the rallies are aimed at ending the Israeli-Egyptian blockade of Gaza that has brought severe economic hardship to the territory.
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