Israel's truce with Hamas hangs in the balance

Rocket fire from Gaza and subsequent IAF airstrikes threaten five-months of quiet; Hamas's determination and ability to keep small jihadi groups in check, will be what determines the extent of the IDF's response.

Smoke from explosion in Gaza Strip [file] (photo credit: Ibraheem Abu Mustafa / Reuters)
Smoke from explosion in Gaza Strip [file]
(photo credit: Ibraheem Abu Mustafa / Reuters)
The five-month truce between Israel and Hamas hung delicately in the balance on Wednesday, after a small global jihadi group in Gaza again targeted the town of Sderot with rocket fire, just as parents were bringing their children to schools and kindergartens.
Two rockets exploded in open areas near Sderot on Wednesday, triggering alerts and sending frightened families fleeing for shelter, in scenes the IDF and senior defense officials vowed would not be tolerated.
The IDF believes that Hamas does not seek a return to hostilities, and that it is still licking its wounds from November’s bruising eight day conflict with Israel.
But Hamas’s determination and ability to keep small jihadi groups in Gaza, bent on firing at Israeli civilians, in check, will be what determines the extent of the IDF’s response.
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu monitored the developments in Gaza throughout the day.
“If the quiet is violated, we will respond strongly,” he said before his meeting with Norwegian Foreign Minister Espen Barth Eide. “The security of Israel’s citizens is my chief concern, and we will know how to defend the security of our people.”
There were no injuries in Wednesday’s twin rocket blasts. Overnight Wednesday, the Israel Air Force struck two terror targets in the Gaza Strip. Palestinian sources said the bombs fell in open areas.
The IAF strikes came in response to two Palestinian projectiles fired from Gaza at southern Israel on Tuesday, one of which fell in the Eshkol Region and the second inside Palestinian territory.
On Tuesday, parents in Sderot, returning their children to a kindergarten after the Passover break, were shocked to discover a Kassam rocket had smashed through the roof of a kindergarten, which was empty at the time.
Security forces believe the rocket was fired during the recent visit of US President Barack Obama. The incident, which could easily have ended with child casualties had it occurred on a different day, illustrates how fragile the truce is.
The Ashura Council of Holy Fighters on the Edge of Jerusalem, an al-Qaida inspired organization, is believed to be behind the attack.
The Ashura Council has been behind a series of past terrorist attacks on Israel, and has been the target of previous IDF strikes.
Channel 2 said Wednesday that Hamas, under heavy Egyptian pressure, made arrests among members of the group, and sent a message that it was keen on preserving the cease-fire.
Cairo brokered the truce in November 2012 at the end of the eight-day Operation Pillar of Defense.
“From our perspective, it doesn’t matter who fired the rockets. Hamas is responsible,” IDF Spokesman Brig.- Gen. Yoav Mordechai said Wednesday, speaking on a Channel 2 news program.
“The IDF responded in order to send the message that it won’t accept this situation.
The residents of the Gaza border area will not be hostages, not to visits of presidents and certainly not to every time a prisoner with advanced cancer dies,” he added, referring to the fact that the Ashura Council fired the rockets to protest the death of a Hamas inmate in an Israeli prison, who died of esophageal cancer on Tuesday.
Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon vowed that Israel “won’t allow any routine involving a drizzle of rockets at our civilians and forces.”
Earlier in the day, the UN’s envoy Robert Serry issued a statement saying he was “worried about the volatile situation on the ground” manifested by “renewed firing of rockets from Gaza” and “continued tensions over unresolved prisoner issues.”
He said the “renewed violations of the cease-fire risk undermining the ‘understanding’ reached between Israel and Gaza on November 21, and unraveling the gradual but tangible improvements achieved since then in the easing of the closure and the security situation in Gaza and southern Israel.”
The United Nations “condemns the indiscriminate firing of rockets into civilian areas,” he said, “and calls on Israel to act with restraint.
The United Nations will continue to support Egyptian efforts to restore the calm and fully implement the cease-fire understanding as the only viable way to address the unsustainable situation in Gaza.”
Meanwhile, a spokesman for the French Foreign Ministry said Paris “harshly condemns” the rocket fire on the “civilian population in south Israel,” and called for the honoring of the cease-fire agreed upon in November.
The IAF formally deployed its fifth Iron Dome anti-rocket battery on Wednesday. The battery will be operated by soldiers in the IAF’s Air Defense Command.
In November, it had been rushed out of its development stage and deployed ahead of time to protect the greater Tel Aviv metropolitan area during the conflict with Hamas.