Israeli policemen walk past a kindergarten yard damaged by mortar shells fired from the Gaza Strip in a Kibbutz on the Israeli side of the Israeli-Gaza border, May 29, 2018..
(photo credit: REUTERS/AMIR COHEN)
Palestinian militants launched their heaviest barrages against Israel since the 2014 Gaza war on Tuesday and Israeli aircraft struck back, in a surge of fighting after weeks of border violence.
Following scores of militant rocket and mortar launches throughout the day countered by Israeli tank fire and air strikes, the pro-Iran Islamic Jihad militant group said late Tuesday night that an Egyptian-brokered ceasefire agreement had been implemented, but Israel said reports of a deal were untrue.
"Palestinian factions will abide by calm as long as (Israel) abides by it," Islamic Jihad spokesman Daoud Shehab said. An Israeli official who declined to be named said, "The report about a ceasefire is incorrect."
According to Palestinian media reports Wednesday morning, a ceasefire was put in place around 5 a.m., although this has not been confirmed by the Israelis. Sirens which had been blaring regularly throughout the night, petered off as day broke in the region. As a result of the cautious calm, Israeli schools in the area surrounding the Gaza Strip are open and operating normally.
Israeli sirens warning of imminent rocket and mortar strikes sounded all throughout the night in communities surrounding the Gaza Strip. Most of the projectiles were either intercepted by Israel's advanced Iron Dome missile defense system or landed in open fields. In one case, however a home in the city of Netivot was directly hit, but no one was injured. In response to the fire, Israeli aircraft hit 55 militant targets in the Palestinian coastal enclave, including a cross-border tunnel under construction, the military said.
Over 130 rockets and mortars were fired towards Israel throughout Tuesday and into early Wednesday morning. Lieutenant-Colonel Jonathan Conricus, a spokesman for the Israel Defense Forces (IDF), said the most extensive strikes from Gaza since the 2014 war had drawn "the largest IDF retaliatory attack" since that conflict.
Several militant projectiles were shot down by Israel's Iron Dome rocket interceptor system, others landed in empty lots and farmland. One exploded in a kindergarten yard, damaging walls and scattering debris and shrapnel around the playground, about an hour before it was scheduled to open for the day.
Israel shoots down heavy Gaza mortar fire, May 29, 2018 (Reuters)
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu convened security chiefs on Tuesday, and Intelligence Minister Israel Katz said the country was "at the closest point to the threshold of war" since the seven-week conflict with Palestinian militants four years ago.
"If the firing (from Gaza) does not stop, we will have to escalate our responses and it could lead to a deterioration of the situation," Katz said on Army Radio.
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, who heads the Fatah faction that is dominant in the occupied West Bank and is a bitter rival of Hamas and Islamic Jihad, said Israel had used "vigorous aggression" against Gaza that proved it did not want peace.
Various international leaders have condemned the day's events, with the US calling for an emergency United Nations Security Council meeting set to take place Wednesday afternoon.
Nickolay Mladenov, the United Nations' special coordinator for the Middle East peace process, said he was deeply concerned by "the indiscriminate firing of rockets by Palestinian militants from Gaza towards communities in southern Israel."
Amid international condemnation of its use of lethal force at the mass demonstrations that began on March 30, Israel said many of the dead were militants and that the army was repelling attacks on the border fence.
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