image Photo: Flash 90

Escalating Tensions Raise Concern of Possible Israel-Gaza Conflict

Tensions escalated over the weekend, raising renewed concerns of a possible widescale conflagration between Israel and the Islamist organizations in the Gaza Strip.

Several hours after two Palestinian teens stabbed and wounded an Israeli police officer in Jerusalem’s Temple Mount; a Palestinian man rammed his vehicle into a group of civilians by the roadside, near the West Bank settlement of Elazar, located next to the city of Bethlehem. An Israeli police spokesman said that an officer near the scene opened fire toward the driver, who sustained fatal injuries.

Israeli medical services identified one of the victims as a 17-year-old Israeli teenager, who sustained severe injuries with “multi-system trauma;” while his 19-year-old sister was moderately wounded. Both transferred to a Jerusalem-area hospital in stable condition for further treatment.

Shortly after 9 p.m. on Friday, rocket alert sirens were sounded in the southern Israeli city of Sderot, as well in several additional communities of the Gaza Periphery. According to the IDF Spokesperson’s Unit, “one projectile was launched (by Islamist Palestinians) from the Gaza Strip into Israeli territory.”

Thankfully, the rocket was successfully intercepted by the Iron Dome Aerial Defense System as it headed toward a civilian residential area. Several hours later, the IDF announced that “Airforce fighter jets and other planes struck two underground targets belonging to the Hamas terror organization in the northern Gaza Strip.” The Israeli military warned “will continue operating against attempts to harm Israeli civilians,” and underscored that it “holds the Hamas terror organization accountable for all events transpiring in the Gaza Strip and emanating from it.”

The advisory did not deter the Islamists in the Hamas-run enclave. Saturday evening saw a surge in rocket fire from the Palestinian-controlled territory toward Israel’s southern communities. Rocket alert sirens were sounded in Sderot, as well as other Gaza periphery communities. Two rockets were  intercepted by the Iron Dome, while the third landed in an uninhabited area. Shrapnel from one of the incoming missiles fell into a residential courtyard in Sderot. Medical teams said that at least six people required treatment at the scene, including two who sustained light injuries while running to a bomb shelter, and four others – including a 79-year-old woman – were treated for shock.

Several hours later, around midnight Saturday, the IDF reported that “troops spotted a number of armed Palestinians adjacent to the security fence in the northern Gaza Strip.” An attack helicopter and a tank were immediately deployed to the area and opened fire toward the Islamist cell, reportedly killing at least three of the militants. Palestinian medics said three bodies were retrieved from the site, and Gaza hospital officials said a fourth man was injured. There was no immediate comment from any of the major armed groups in the territory.

Meanwhile, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Sunday morning hailed the IDF for its decisive response, which he cited as the ‘elimination of five terrorists. Prior to departing on a state visit to Ukraine, the Israeli leader described his mission to “maintain security and quiet” for all residents of the Jewish State, while stressing Jerusalem is “taking all necessary actions” to realize this goal. The Prime Minister also took the opportunity to reject domestic criticism, that he refrained from launching a widescale military operation in Gaza over political considerations ahead of imminent national elections scheduled September 17.