Egypt and the UN over the weekend restored calm between Hamas and Israel, after 12 hours of Gaza violence late Thursday night and early Friday morning threatened to spiral out of control.
On Thursday night, Palestinians in Gaza fired two missiles at the Tel Aviv area and an additional nine rockets at southern Israel. The IDF hit 100 Hamas targets in retaliation. At 8 a.m. the violence came to a halt, after the United Nations and Egypt worked behind the scenes to restore calm.
The IDF on Friday morning declared that the rockets fired from Gaza at Tel Aviv had been fired by mistake.
In a step that helped ensure that calm was maintained, Palestinians canceled Friday’s weekly Gaza border protest, known as the “March of Return.”
The National Committee for the March of Return, a group consisting of several Gaza-based Palestinian factions, said it canceled the event out of “concern for our people” and in preparation for the mass protests planned for March 30 to mark Land Day. The day is planned to be marked by holding a general strike in the West Bank, Gaza Strip and east Jerusalem, and stepping up the demonstrations along the Gaza-Israel border.
The cancellation is the first since the protests began on March 30, 2018, and include violent clashes between Palestinians and IDF soldiers.
In spite of the sudden calm, the IDF deployed Iron Dome batteries across central Israel. Thursday night’s attack, which did not lead to any casualties, marked the first time since the 2014 Gaza war that rockets had been launched at central Israel.
A Saudi-owned news website claimed on Saturday that Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) head Nadav Argaman met secretly in Cairo last week with Hamas leaders.
According to the London-based website, Independent Arabia, the purported meeting was held under the sponsorship of Gen. Abbas Kamel, head of Egypt’s General Intelligence Service.
The report said that the top Egyptian security official proposed to Argaman that he listen directly to Hamas’s conditions for achieving a long-term truce with Israel. The Egyptian official also suggested that the Shin Bet head directly present the Israeli position to the Hamas leaders.
The report claimed that Argaman received a “green light” from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to meet with the Hamas officials.
At the meeting, the Shin Bet head raised the issue of the Israelis held by Hamas in the Gaza Strip, including the bodies of two missing IDF soldiers, according to the Saudi report. Argaman, it added, also affirmed the need for an “absolute truce” that would include an end to the weekly protests along the Gaza-Israel border.
The report claimed that Argaman promised that Israel was prepared to ease the blockade on the Gaza Strip and work directly with Hamas at the border crossings with Israel. He also promised that Israel would work toward reopening the Kerem Shalom border crossing, the Karni industrial zone and the Rafah terminal between the Gaza Strip and Egypt, the report added.
The meeting was held in a positive atmosphere and some of the Hamas officials were speaking in Hebrew – a language they learned during their incarceration in Israeli prisons, the report said. It named Hamas leader Musa Abu Marzouk as one of the officials who attended the purported meeting. Abu Marzouk, according to the report, was accompanied by two unnamed Hamas commanders.
THE IDF said on Friday that there was “a growing assumption that the Hamas rocket fire toward the Gush Dan region was by mistake,” adding that the IDF sees the group as responsible for everything happening in the coastal enclave.
It wasn’t immediately clear which group in Gaza was responsible for the rocket fire, with Hamas, Palestinian Islamic Jihad and other groups all denying involvement. Hamas said it was attempting to prevent any further escalation and promised to take action against the perpetrators as the rocket fire “went against the national consensus.”
According to a report by Channel 13 News, low-level Hamas terrorists had “messed with” a rocket launcher that had been prepared to fire on Tel Aviv in a future military confrontation with Israel.
The rockets apparently were fired when Hamas leaders, including Yahya Sinwar, were meeting with an Egyptian delegation who were in the Gaza Strip, who angrily asked Sinwar: “You’re meeting with us at the same time as you’re firing on Tel Aviv?”
The Egyptians then called the IDF and explained that the M-75 rockets had been mistakenly launched and that the group was “embarrassed” by the event. The Israelis then told the Egyptians to leave Gaza through the Erez Crossing.
Following the rockets, Netanyahu – who is also the defense minister – held security consultations at the Kirya military headquarters in Tel Aviv with IDF Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Aviv Kochavi, National Security Council head Meir Ben-Shabbat, Argaman and other senior defense officials.
Israel then began its strikes on Gaza, with Kochavi personally choosing the targets, the Channel 13 report said. The military struck 100 targets in the Hamas-run strip throughout the night on Friday, including the headquarters responsible for the planning and execution of terror attacks in the West Bank, an underground complex that served as Hamas’s main rocket-manufacturing site, and a military training site that also functioned as the group’s drone program.
The report added that had the rocket fire been deliberate there would have been 500 strikes instead of 100.
Several underground infrastructures and military compounds were also struck, including naval sites belonging to the group. Local Palestinian media in Gaza said that Israeli naval vessels also took part in the strikes off the coast of Rafah.
The Hamas-run Gaza Health Ministry said there were no immediate reports of casualties, but there were several injuries, including a woman who had to have her hand amputated.
During the airstrikes, three red alert incoming rocket sirens were activated in Israeli communities bordering the southern Gaza Strip. According to the military, nine projectiles were launched from the Gaza Strip, with six being intercepted by the Iron Dome missile defense system, while another fell inside Gaza.
On Friday, the Israel Police announced that they had located the remains of one rocket which, according to reports, had fallen in an open area in the city of Holon outside of Tel Aviv. The second rocket is believed to have landed in the sea. Shrapnel was discovered outside a school in the city of Sderot, but there were no reports of injuries or damage.
“Two rockets were launched from the Gaza Strip towards Israeli territory. The alert and warning systems operated as required,” the army said. “No interceptions were made by aerial defense systems. No damage or injuries were reported. There are no special instructions for the civilian home front.”
Five people were treated for shock.
Earlier in the week, the IDF inaugurated a new targeting center, which will serve as a focal point in the acquisition of emergency and routine targets in the military. According to the IDF, the center has been operating for a month and has been prioritizing the southern front, as part of an effort to improve readiness for fighting in the Gaza Strip as order by Kochavi.
ISRAEL CALLED on the United Nations Security Council to designate Hamas as a terrorist group and asked it to condemn the latest rocket attack.
“The terrorists that fired these rockets into Israel’s most populated civilian area did so while hiding behind Palestinians civilians in Gaza and exploiting them as human shields,” Ambassador to the United Nations Danny Danon said on Friday.
“Such an act constitutes a double war crime,” he explained. “Israel will take any and all necessary actions to protect itself and its citizens from the unrelenting Palestinian terrorism we face. A terrorist organization that tries to harm Israel will encounter a relentless and uncompromising force.”
“Any other nation facing this daily onslaught of terror attacks would not hesitate to act on behalf of the safety and security of its people,” Danon added.
“Israel must not be held to a different standard.”
The United States last year attempted and failed to pass a resolution at the UN General Assembly that condemned Hamas. On Monday, the UN Human Rights Council is set to condemn Israeli military activity in Gaza and Israeli restrictions of the movement of goods and people into the Gaza Strip.
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told Fox and Friends on Friday that Israel had a right to defend itself against Hamas attacks from Gaza.
“I regret that the folks in the Gaza Strip... fired these rockets and put Israelis at risk,” Pompeo said. “This only presents an increased risk of escalation, something that we hope doesn’t happen, but you should know we will support the Israelis’ right to defend themselves.”
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