Uneasy truce between Israel and Hamas after exchange of fire

Rocket fired from Gaza on Tuesday evening threatens ceasefire after surge in violence

 

A rocket fired from Gaza landed in an open area in southern Israel on Tuesday night, jeopardising a tense Egypt-brokered truce reached between Israel and Hamas earlier in the day, after another round of cross-border fire had threatened to escalate into a broader conflagration.

Israeli prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu, who cut short a trip to the US to deal with the escalation, warned that Israel is “prepared to do a lot more”. He convened security consultations on his return, after which the army ordered extra infantry and artillery units to be sent to the Gaza border area.

Militants also sent a number of incendiary balloons across the border on Tuesday.

The relative calm may be short-lived as Hamas vowed to press ahead with a planned Million Man march along the Gaza border on Saturday, marking the one-year anniversary of the weekly protests that have left more than 180 Palestinians dead and thousands injured.

The latest flare-up started early on Monday morning when a rocket from Gaza slammed into the home of a British- born family north of Tel Aviv, injuring seven people.

Air strikes

Israel, which amassed extra troops and tanks along the border, responded with a series of air strikes across Gaza. The targets included the office of Hamas political leader Ismail Haniyeh and the group’s military intelligence headquarters. Seven residents were hurt.

Militant groups fired some 60 projectiles into Israel, sending residents in the south into bomb shelters.

However, both sides showed relative restraint and by early Tuesday the fighting was over.

Israel and Hamas have fought three wars between 2007 and 2014 and have come to the brink of all-out conflict several times since.

Israeli radio stations were flooded with calls on Tuesday morning from angry residents of the south. The residents complained that the government had once again abandoned them and failed to topple the Hamas regime to put an end to years of cross-border rocket fire and sleeping in bomb shelters.

They contrasted how the government reacts when a rocket lands near Tel Aviv to the reality of almost weekly militant attacks in the south.

Election issue

With a closely-fought election only two weeks away, this was exactly the scenario that Mr Netanyahu, dubbed “Mr Security” by his supporters, wanted to avoid.

However, the option of launching a ground offensive, with the danger of significant Israeli military and civilian casualties, was too risky.

Right-wing parties were quick to criticise Mr Netanyahu.

Ayelet Shaked from the New Right party said that Hamas was no longer afraid of Israel, calling for the army to hit the group hard so that it does not benefit when it aims its missiles at Israel.

Tamar Zandberg, head of the left-wing Meretz party, called on the government to reach a stable ceasefire and then to immediately take steps to reach a long-term truce arrangement that included the Gaza Strip’s rehabilitation, lifting the siege and holding negotiations for a peace arrangement.