An Egyptian-brokered cessation of hostilities took effect this morning after some 700 rockets and mortar shells were fired from the Gaza Strip toward Israel’s southern communities over the weekend, in the deadliest recorded eruption of violence since the 2014 Gaza war. four Israelis were killed in the intense Palestinian bombardment, and more than two hundred others sustained injuries. The Israeli military responded with airstrikes against 320 targets across the Palestinian enclave which Hamas medical officials said claimed the lives of 23 Palestinians, including a targeted assassination.
The tense situation deteriorated on Friday evening, when Palestinian Islamists belonging to the Iranian-proxy Islamic Jihad opened fire from the southern Gaza Strip toward an Israeli force stationed along the border. As a result, one soldier was moderately wounded while another sustained light injuries. An Israeli Air Force fighter jet retaliated for the attack with a strike against a Hamas military post in central Gaza, killing two operatives of the organization’s Izz al-Din al-Qassam Brigades military wing and wounding three others. A situation assessment by top IDF brass immediately raised the level of preparedness ahead of an anticipated imminent escalation.
Several hours later at 9:49 AM Saturday morning, Islamist organizations in Gaza launched a first barrage of rockets toward Israel’s civilian communities, which slowly but steadily intensified. Over the course of the day, an estimated 250 rockets were fired from the Hamas-controlled territory into Israel, with 70% of the rockets exploding in open areas. The IDF Spokesperson’s Unit underlined that the Iron Dome Aerial Defense system managed to intercept dozens of the rockets that had been directed toward Israeli towns and cities.
Meanwhile, the Israeli Air Force stepped up its bombardment of Gaza overnight Saturday, targeting approximately 200 militant installations belonging to the Islamist Hamas and the Islamic Jihad. The retaliatory strikes saw a reciprocal surge of Palestinian rocket fire, with the Islamist organizations seeking to overwhelm Israel’s Iron Dome anti-rocket system. The intensified rocket fire saw a growing number of incoming projectiles successfully penetrating Israel’s aerial defenses, exploding in multiple Israeli towns and cities. The first Israeli casualty was reported in the early hours of Sunday morning, when a rocket struck his residence in the city of Ashkelon. According a local police statement, the 58-year-old father of four was killed while rushing to a nearby bomb shelter. Several hours afterward, two other Israelis were killed in separate incidents. One of the victims died when a rocket hit an industrial zone in the city of Ashkelon, while the third was reportedly killed when his vehicle sustained a direct hit from a Kornet Missile fired from the Hamas-controlled Strip. The fourth Israeli casualty lost his life yesterday evening, when a rocket struck a residential building in the southern Israeli city of Ashdod.
Following a five hour Security Cabinet meeting in Jerusalem, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu insisted that Israel would step up its resolve vis-à-vis the terror organizations in the Gaza Strip. He reiterated Jerusalem’s position that the Islamist Hamas organization is solely responsible for all terror activities emanating from the enclave, despite claims of responsibility for initiating the latest escalation from its Iranian-backed ally, the Islamic Jihad. Netanyahu pointedly stated that “Hamas bears the responsibility not only for its own attacks and actions but also for the actions of Islamic Jihad, and it is paying a very heavy price for this.” At the time of the meeting, the Israeli leader further insisted that the security cabinet was working to restore quiet in southern Israel but stopped short from elaborating on the matter.
While Israeli officials familiar with the points of discussion of the Security Cabinet meeting refused to immediately comment on TV7’s request for an elaborate response; former National Security Advisor, General Yaakov Amidror, insisted that the Islamic Republic of Iran orchestrated the entire escalation. He stated that “Islamic Jihad, unlike Hamas, is an organization which was established by Iran, financed by Iran, and (instructed) by Iran. This is the interest of the Iranians, that there will be another operation in Gaza that they will be free to continue what they are doing in Syria and Israel will be busy with and focusing on Gaza and will not have enough energy to deal with the building of the independent Iranian war machine in Syria.”
When asked whether Israel would consider removing Hamas from power in the wake of its repeated cycles of aggression, Maj. Gen. (res.) Amidror said Israel would not attain victory if it were to launch a largescale operation in Gaza. He stressed that Israel does not want to assume control of the territory’s 2 million residents, and that it is in Jerusalem’s best interest not to destroy Hamas so there will be an “address of responsibility” for Gaza. After adding that the Islamist group manipulates this conundrum, the former National Security Adviser underlined the complexity of the situation and equated dealing with Hamas with trying “to deter someone who is ready to commit suicide.”
A cessation of hostilities reportedly went into effect this morning, with Palestinian officials telling TV7 that Egypt’s intensive mediation bore fruit. While Israeli officials did not immediately confirm the ceasefire, the IDF Spokesperson’s Unit announced that as of seven this morning, all protective restrictions imposed on Israel’s civilian communities were lifted. Nevertheless, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu stressed in a statement following the reported ceasefire that “the campaign is not over,” and that the current situation “demands patience and wisdom.” He further insisted that “Israel is prepared to continue,” and that “the goal has been – and remains – ensuring quiet and security for the residents of the south.”