Post-missile truce between Israel and Hamas mediated by Cairo
Four wounded in Israeli attack on Gaza after Fajr projectiles fired at Tel Aviv in error
A Palestinian boy jumps at a destroyed Hamas site following Israeli air strikes in Gaza City on March 15th. Photograph: Mohammed Salem
Egypt on Friday mediated a truce between Israel and Hamas after two missiles fired from Gaza at Tel Aviv, apparently in error, prompted massive Israeli air strikes at what the Israeli military termed “Hamas targets” across the Gaza Strip.
Sirens wailed across the greater Tel Aviv area on Thursday night, sending panicked residents in Israel’s largest metropolis into bomb shelters.
The two Iranian-made Fajr missiles landed in open areas, causing no casualties or damage. The attack came totally out of the blue and marked the first time militants had fired projectiles at Tel Aviv since the 2014 Gaza war.
Both Hamas and Islamic Jihad denied responsibility but both militant groups mobilised fighters and evacuated strategic positions anticipating that Israel would not let an attack on Tel Aviv pass without retaliation.
The Israeli military said that, in response, jets, helicopter gunships and other aircraft attacked approximately “100 Hamas terrorist targets” in the Gaza Strip on Thursday night and early Friday morning. Sites hit included an underground rocket production facility, Hamas offices and a drone development centre.
Witnesses said powerful explosions from the air strikes rocked buildings in Gaza and lit the skies over targeted sites. Four people were wounded.
Militants also fired a number of rockets at the Israeli border town of Sderot and other border communities on Friday morning before the truce went into effect.
Under the terms of the Egyptian-mediated ceasefire, Hamas cancelled Friday protests along the border with Israel, marking the first time in a year that the weekly gatherings have been called off.
The Israeli military concluded on Friday that a junior Hamas operative probably fired the rockets at Tel Aviv by mistake but said that Israel still held Hamas, which controls Gaza, responsible for all militant fire emanating from the coastal enclave.
Hamas said that it was attempting to locate the perpetrators “who took action against the public interest”.
“The rocket fire deviates from the consensus, we will take steps against the criminals,” read the Hamas statement.
Israeli prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu, facing elections next month, knew he had to respond forcefully to an attack on Tel Aviv and braced himself for criticism from right-wing parties for being “soft” on Hamas. At the same time, he was keen to avoid an escalation that would send Israelis into bomb shelters for a protracted period and possibly put Tel Aviv under fire, less than two months before the city is due to host the finals of the Eurovision song contest.
Naftali Bennett, head of the New Right party, called on the government to draw up plans to defeat Hamas.
“It doesn’t matter who was behind the rocket fire, Hamas is responsible. Anyone who is lenient towards people who send incendiary kites will get missiles,” he said. “Anyone who displays restraint toward rockets on Sderot will get missiles on Tel Aviv. The time has come to defeat Hamas once and for all with an uncompromising pursuit and systematic assassination of Hamas’s leaders.”