Two days after Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) pummeled Israel with some 700 rockets, and Israel responded with a show of force not seen since Operation Protective Edge in 2014, an undeclared ceasefire held in the South on Monday.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, however, made clear that this would not be the last round of fighting in the coastal enclave.
“Over the last two days, we struck Hamas and Islamic Jihad with great force,” he said in a statement. “We hit over 350 targets. We struck terrorist leaders and operatives and we destroyed terrorist buildings. The campaign is not over, and it demands patience and sagacity. We are prepared to continue. The goal has been – and remains – ensuring quiet and security for the residents of the South.”
Netanyahu’s statement said nothing of a ceasefire, which a Hamas-run television channel first reported would come into effect at 4:30 a.m. While no official comments came from Jerusalem announcing a ceasefire, directives issued by the IDF – saying that at 7 a.m. restrictions placed on residents of the South would be lifted – were an indication that an agreement had been reached.
The agreement was brokered, as previous ones were, by Egypt and the UN. Though the terms were not released, KAN News reported that they included Israel agreeing to the transfer of some $30 million from Qatar to Gaza to pay Hamas salaries, reopening the crossings into Gaza, and a return to the expanded fishing zone off Gaza’s coast. Hamas is expected to exert greater control over PIJ, limit the weekly “Great March of Return” riots along the border, and stop launching inflammable balloons and kites toward Israel.
PIJ, which is considered Iran’s proxy in Gaza, triggered the recent round of violence by sniping at two IDF soldiers along the Gaza border on Friday. Israel responded, hitting a Hamas position and killing four Hamas operatives. This was followed by the heaviest barrage of rockets from Gaza since 2014’s Operation Protective Edge.
Netanyahu – who on Monday did not publicly refer to the ceasefire agreement – said following a security briefing that Hamas understands that over the last two days, Israel has changed the rules of engagement in Gaza.
“In the past two days, we have renewed the policy of eliminating senior terrorists, we killed dozens of terrorists from Hamas and Islamic Jihad, and destroyed terrorist towers,” he said.
“We have changed the rules of the game, and Hamas understands this very well. With that, it is clear that this is not the end of the campaign, and I therefore gave instructions to prepare for what will come next, and gave directives to leave armored and artillery forces around the Gaza Strip.”
Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri responded to Netanyahu, saying that the prime minister’s comments were worthy of “scorn.”
“The resistance succeeded in deterring Netanyahu’s army,” he said, adding that Hamas’ message to Netanyahu is that “this round is over, but the confrontation will not end until our rights are achieved.”
According to figures reported on Channel 12, some 690 rockets were fired from Gaza, killing four Israeli civilians and hitting 21 homes. The Iron Dome system succeeded in intercepting 240 rockets, or about 85% of the projectiles that were on a trajectory to a populated or strategic area.
The IDF hit some 350 targets, killing 30 Palestinians, destroyed six multi-story buildings that served the terrorist organizations, carried out two targeted assassinations and destroyed one terror tunnel.
While the IDF’s Home Front Command announced the lifting of all restrictions for residents in southern Israel on Monday morning, IDF Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Aviv Kochavi warned that Israel would continue to strike if necessary.
“We will continue to strike forcefully, as many times as needed, wherever it is needed,” Kochavi said during a pre-Remembrance Day ceremony. “The terrorist army operating in the Gaza Strip, hiding among its own citizens, saw the strength of the IDF which destroyed hundreds of terrorist targets, including headquarters, weapons depots, infrastructures, and ostensibly civilian buildings that became terrorized.”
An IDF Spokesperson told The Jerusalem Post that there has not been changed in the build-up of troops deployed to the southern border on Saturday. Due to the violence in the South over the weekend, the IDF deployed the 7th armored brigade “which would be ready to act as an offensive force within the Gaza Division,” as well as the Golani Brigade. The Paratroopers Brigade is on standby to be deployed South if needed, the military said.
On Monday afternoon, the IDF announced that it will be closing all crossings to the West Bank and Gaza Strip for Remembrance and Independence Days this week, beginning at midnight on Monday until 12:01 on Friday morning.
Exceptions will be made for humanitarian, medical and exceptional cases approved by the IDF’s Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT), the military said.
The closure of crossings is a standard move ahead of Israeli religious and civil holidays.