Gaza Tense After Heavy Fire Overnight 03/26 06:27
JERUSALEM (AP) -- The Gaza border region was quiet but tense on Tuesday
morning after a night of heavy fire as Israeli aircraft bombed targets across
the Gaza Strip and Gaza militants fired rockets into Israel in what threatened
to escalate into a major conflict, just two weeks before the Israeli election.
Schools in southern Israel were cancelled for the day and the military
massed forces on the Gaza border and imposed restrictions on civilian public
gatherings, after dozens of rockets were fired toward communities in the area,
including one that struck a house in the town of Sderot.
The Israeli air force pounded militant sites of Gaza's Hamas rulers and the
smaller Islamic Jihad group. The targets included a multistory building in Gaza
City that Israel said had served as a Hamas military intelligence headquarters
and the office of Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh. Gaza's Health Ministry said
seven Palestinians were wounded in the airstrikes.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was to return from Washington later in the
day and head directly to military headquarters in Tel Aviv for consultations on
the next steps. He faces the difficult task of delivering a tough blow to Hamas
while avoiding protracted fighting that could work against him on election day.
Netanyahu has come under heavy criticism from both allies and opponents for
what they say has been an ineffective policy of containing Gaza militants. He
has conducted indirect cease-fire talks through Egyptian mediators in recent
months, and even allowed the delivery of millions of dollars of Qatari aid to
Hamas to ease harsh conditions in Gaza.
After a meeting with President Donald Trump and before leaving Washington,
Netanyahu indicated the election would not deter him from acting.
"We have responded very, very forcefully. Hamas needs to know that we will
not hesitate to go in and take all necessary steps --- regardless of anything,
any date, other than Israel's security needs," he said.
The cross-border fighting was triggered by a surprise rocket fired early
Monday from Gaza that slammed into a house in central Israel and wounded seven
The Israeli military said it was a self-manufactured rocket with a range of
120 kilometers (75 miles), making it one of the deepest strikes ever carried
out by Hamas. The military mobilized two armor and infantry brigades and
drafted some reserve forces before striking back at militant sites in Gaza.
Gaza's Hamas rulers announced later in the day that Egyptian mediators had
brokered a cease-fire but the firing continued overnight before calm appeared
to return early Tuesday.
The rocket attack prompted Netanyahu to cut short a visit to Washington and
return home, setting the stage for perhaps the most serious conflict since a
war in 2014. But with no fatalities reported on either side yet, and the quiet
holding for the moment, it still seemed possible to step back from the brink
Two weeks ago, rockets were fired from Gaza toward Israel's densely
populated commercial capital of Tel Aviv, and the Israeli military struck back.
Gaza's Hamas leaders said the rocket was fired accidentally and the fighting
Israel and Hamas have fought three wars in the last decade. Although neither
side appears to have an interest in another war, fighting could easily spin out
of control. The 2014 conflict lasted 50 days and ended with over 2,000
Palestinian deaths, including hundreds of civilians, and 73 killed on the
In Gaza, Hamas is facing perhaps its toughest domestic test since seizing
control of the coastal territory from the rival Palestinian Authority 12 years
An Israel-Egyptian blockade, imposed to weaken Hamas, combined with
sanctions by the Palestinian Authority and mismanagement by the Hamas
government, have all fueled an economic crisis that has left Gaza with an
unemployment rate above 50 percent.
Hamas has been leading weekly protests along the Israeli border for the past
year in hopes of easing the blockade, but the demonstrations, in which some 190
people have been killed by Israeli fire, have done little to improve conditions.
Last week, hundreds of Gazans protested the dire conditions, a rare
expression of public discontent against the authoritarian government. Hamas
responded with a violent crackdown, beating and arresting dozens of
demonstrators and drawing rare public criticism.
By limiting its fire to border communities after Monday's long-range launch,
Hamas seems to be trying to keep the conflagration on low intensity. For
Israelis living along the border who have suffered from years of rocket attacks
that is little comfort.
"The Israeli government can't, under no circumstances, settle," said Haim
Jellin, a Labor party candidate for parliament and a former head of the
bordering Eshkol regional council. "Firing at Israeli communities that border
with Gaza is the same as firing toward Tel Aviv, and it's impossible we will
show restraint at the continuous firing."