A Palestinian Hamas militant takes part in a rally marking the twelfth anniversary of the death of late Hamas leader Sheikh Ahmed Yassin in Gaza City.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
The Israel Air Force struck two Hamas targets in southern Gaza early Saturday in response to a rocket attack hours earlier on the Eshkol region.
The rocket, which triggered warning sirens in the area, exploded in an uninhabited area and caused no injuries. The IDF said it held Hamas responsible for the attack.
Still, defense sources on Saturday evening said the latest escalation appears to be coming to an end.
Over the weekend, Hamas halted its cross-border mortar attacks on IDF units that are searching for attack tunnels.
Tensions on the Gaza border had escalated over the past week, with the army’s second discovery in the past month of a Hamas tunnel stretching from southern Strip into Israel.
Throughout the week, the IDF responded to Hamas mortar shells with tank fire and air strikes on targets belonging to the terrorist organization.
On Friday morning, the air force struck a Hamas target in the Gaza Strip in response to mortar attacks on units.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu convened the security cabinet on Friday to assess the situation.
Ismail Haniyeh, the leader of Hamas in Gaza, said on Friday the Islamist group was “not calling for war” with Israel, and that Egypt and other parties were working behind the scenes to defuse the worst flare-up in violence since Operation Protective Edge in 2014.
“We are not calling for war, but we will not allow incursions at all,” Haniyeh said at a mosque before Friday prayers.
“The resistance will not allow the establishment of a so-called buffer zone inside the borders of the Gaza Strip.”
Haniyeh said mediators from Egypt, Qatar, Turkey and the United Nations had been working to restore calm along Gaza’s border.
Meanwhile, MK Yaakov Peri (Yesh Atid), a former director of the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency), said Saturday that in addition to counter-tunnel measures, Israel should seek to ease the economic situation for ordinary Gazans. He called on the government to “open [new] horizons that will indicate to Gazan residents that an easier and more comfortable future awaits.”
Peri said Hamas is not interested, at this stage, for its own reasons, in entering another war with Israel.
“It fears losing what is from its perspective a strategic weapon – the tunnels – and is signaling to Israel through mortar fire to express this fear. The difficult economic situation in the Strip also makes it harder for Hamas to initiate another conflict,” he said.
Reuters contributed to this report.