The IDF and Hamas remain in a tense standoff, as Gaza border riots and two limited IDF aerial attacks over the weekend failed to ignite a major escalation.
Early Friday, UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process Nickolay Mladenov called on all sides to refrain from violence.
“In light of today’s planned Gaza march, I urge all to exercise restraint, to proceed in a peaceful manner, and to avoid escalation. The UN is working with Egypt and its partners to avoid violence, address all humanitarian issues and support reconciliation,” he said.
The weekend events were expected to have a significant impact on whether Israel would launch a military operation in Gaza.
On Saturday evening, an IDF aircraft struck a cell of Palestinians which had launched incendiary aerial devices from the southern Gaza Strip into Israel that morning, igniting fires in the Be’eri and Shokeda forests near the border. The IAF on Friday afternoon also attacked a terrorist squad that launched incendiary devices into Israel.
On Friday, 10,000 Palestinians protested along the border. The protesters burned tires and hurled stones and Molotov cocktails at IDF troops. There were three attempted infiltrations, in which Palestinians crossed into Israel and then went back to Gaza, the IDF said. About 130 Palestinians were injured in the day’s events.
The protest was relatively small – some of the previous gatherings included 30,000 people – a sign tensions from the past few days may be easing.
Hamas has rejected an Egyptian request that it halt the weekly protests, called the “Great March of Return,” which began March 30. But it did appear to have called for restrained action on Friday.
The IDF said it noticed that in several places Hamas forces restrained protesters and distanced them from the security fence.
Israel and Hamas appeared Wednesday to be on the brink of renewed war, after Palestinians in Gaza launched two powerful Grad rockets, one of which destroyed a home in Beersheba and the other reached the center of the country, falling harmlessly in the sea.
According to sources, Egyptian intelligence officials who were in the Gaza Strip on Wednesday succeeded in averting a military confrontation.
Egyptians relayed a message to Israel to the effect that the rocket attacks were not initiated by the leadership of Hamas or any major terrorist group, including Islamic Jihad.
The two groups have denied responsibility for the launching of the rockets, but have thus far offered no details about the party responsible.
Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman said if Friday passed without any violence he would consider reopening two land crossings into Gaza: the pedestrian one at Erez and the commercial one at Kerem Shalom.
Israel closed those crossings, which are two of the three main arteries into Gaza, on Wednesday in response to the violence.
As of Saturday night, the two crossings remained closed.
A late Wednesday night cabinet meeting ended without published results. Prior to the meeting Liberman had called for a military operation that would deal Hamas a “harsh blow.”
On Thursday, Mladenov briefed the UN Security Council on the Gaza situation, which he warned was “imploding.”
“This is not a hyperbole. This is not alarmism. It is a reality,” he said.
Mladenov said the two parties remain on the brink of another devastating conflict, a conflict that nobody claims to want, but a conflict that needs much more than just words to be prevented.
“Let me assure this council that, barring substantial steps to reverse the current course, this precarious sense of calm is doomed to give way under the mounting pressure,” he said.
“The gravity of the situation compels us to take decisive action.”
Anna Ahronheim, Jerusalem Post Staff and Reuters contributed to this report.
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