Calm returned to southern Israel Saturday, after a violent Friday in which Israel bombarded Hamas targets in Gaza in response to the death earlier in the day of an IDF soldier by Palestinian sniper fire along the border.
The fallen soldier was identified as 20-year-old St.-Sgt. Aviv Levi from Petah Tikva. His family, which was abroad in Italy at the time of his death, was notified by the IDF, and Levi’s name was released to the media on Saturday night.
He was killed two weeks before his 21st birthday and three months before the end of his military service.
Levi will be buried Sunday at noon at the Petah Tikva-Segula military cemetery.
The Givati Brigade soldier, who had been wearing a protective vest, was said to have been hit in the chest by the sniper.
Levi was the first soldier to be killed by a Palestinian from the Gaza Strip in four years, since Operation Protective Edge in 2014.
Unconfirmed reports in Gaza stated that the leadership of Hamas’s military wing ordered the gunfire in revenge for an Izzadin al-Qassam Brigades member
, identified by the Gaza European Hospital as 38-year-old Abdul-Karim Radwan, who was killed on Thursday as he was launching incendiary kites.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu expressed his condolences, stating, “Aviv fought with his friends bravely and with determination against the terror from the Gaza Strip. Unfortunately, this struggle sometimes exacts from us an unbearable price. Our hearts go out to the family.”
An Israeli source said Hamas has suffered “a severe blow” in Friday’s retaliatory air strike and “had asked for a cease-fire through the Egyptians” and “had committed to stopping the incendiary terror and the terror along the fence.”
Egypt has relayed this commitment to Israel, but the facts on the ground will determine what happens next, the source said.
“If Hamas violates [this understanding] it will pay a heavy price,” the source warned. Another diplomatic source told The Jerusalem Post that evidence of a cessation of hostilities could already be seen in the absence of any violent response to the Israeli air strike.
While a cease-fire was reached between Israel and Hamas by midnight, IDF tanks on Saturday morning fired toward a Hamas post in the northern Gaza Strip after a group of Palestinians infiltrated into Israel by breaching the security fence. There were no casualties and the group returned to the Strip.
Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum tweeted that the ceasefire was reached “with Egyptian and UN efforts to return to the previous situation of ceasefire between the occupation and Palestinian factions.”
The IDF had no official comment on the cease-fire announcement but said Saturday morning that residents near the Gaza border could return to their normal schedules.
IDF strikes eight Hamas military targets and three Hamas battalion headquarters in response to the violent activity emanating from the Gaza Strip and the death of an IDF soldier, Friday, July 20, 2018
On Saturday evening, Israeli media reported that defense establishment officials believe the sniper fire was not sanctioned by Hamas and that Egyptian officials were enraged by the incident and made the Gazan terrorist group accept the cease-fire with Israel.
According to the IDF’s Spokesperson’s Unit, more than 60 Hamas targets across the coastal enclave were hit, including three battalion headquarters. Other targets included weapons stores, combat equipment warehouses, training areas, observation posts, command and control rooms, a battalion commander’s office, and other infrastructure.
Four Palestinians were said have been killed in the retaliatory strikes, three of whom belonged to Hamas.
The military said the strikes by fighter jets and tanks came as a response to the sniper fire which killed the soldier in the area of Kibbutz Kissufim.
“Hamas will be held accountable for this incident as well as the series of the terror activities it has been executing over the past months,” the IDF said in a statement. “Hamas has chosen to escalate the security situation and will bear the responsibility for its actions.”
The IDF Home Front Command had instructed Israelis living in communities near the Gaza border on Friday afternoon to remain within a 15-second distance from a bomb shelter and to avoid mass gatherings. The army also closed Zikim Beach to the public for the weekend as a precaution.
Incoming rocket sirens were activated around 8:30 p.m. on Friday in Gaza periphery communities, with two projectiles intercepted by the Iron Dome missile defense system and a third hitting open territory outside a community in the South.
On Friday evening, Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman spoke on the phone with Nickolay Mladenov,
UN special coordinator for the Middle East peace process, warning that Hamas was “deliberately deteriorating the situation” and that Hamas would be responsible for any loss of life.
“If Hamas continues with the rocket fire, the result will be much harsher than they think, and the responsibility for all the destruction and loss of human life will be on Hamas,” Liberman cautioned.
Taking to Twitter, Mladenov stated, “The actions of #Hamas, #IslamicJihad & other groups in #Gaza put at risk not only the lives of Israelis & Palestinians alike, but also efforts to ensure a livable future 4 people of Gaza. They must prevent the launching of rockets & breaching of the fence.
“Everyone in #Gaza needs to step back from the brink. Not next week. Not tomorrow. Right NOW! Those who want to provoke #Palestinians and #Israelis into another war must not succeed,” he added.
The Israeli strikes and the launching of the Gazan projectiles came after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Liberman, IDF Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Gadi Eisenkot, Israel Air Force Commander Maj.-Gen. Amikam Norkin and other top IDF officers met at IDF Headquarters in Tel Aviv for a security assessment.
According to the Gaza Health Ministry, two Palestinians killed in the earlier strikes near Khan Yunis, with a third being killed east of Rafah. They were identified as Shaaban Abu Khatir, Muhammed Abu Farhana and Mahmoud Qishta.
Earlier on Friday, hundreds of Palestinians demonstrated along the border fence in another week of protests. The official Palestinian news agency Wafa reported that at least five Palestinians were injured by live bullets.
On Friday morning, Liberman warned that Hamas is pushing Israel into a wide-scale Gaza war that will be larger in scope than Operation Protective Edge in 2014.
“Hamas leaders are forcibly leading us into a situation where we will have no choice, a situation in which we will have to embark on a painful, wide-scale military operation,” Liberman said as he visited the southern city of Sderot.
“Hamas is responsible for this crisis, but unfortunately it’s the Gaza residents that may have to pay the price,” he noted.
Tensions with Gaza have significantly risen following a flareup of violence last weekend when Hamas launched 200 mortars and rockets into southern Israel, and Israel responded by striking more than 40 Hamas targets across the Gaza Strip.
On Thursday, Liberman held a meeting to assess the situation in the South shortly after a Hamas projectile struck southern Israel.
The meeting was attended by the IDF chief of staff, the head of military intelligence, the commanders of the Southern Command and Central Command, the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT) and members of the Shin Bet.
The UN Security Council is set to discuss the Gaza escalation on Tuesday, according to the office of Israel’s Ambassador to the UN in New York Danny Danon.
Danon called on the UNSC to “unequivocally condemn Hamas immediately, which perpetrates violence and terror against Israeli communities, endangering their lives, and holds the entire Palestinian population of Gaza hostage.”Tovah Lazaroff contributed to this report.
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