Gaza truce firms up after two-day flare-up

Gaza truce firms up after two-day flare-up

As a jittery quiet prevails in the south, analysts predict another round of violence is only a matter of time

An Israeli army tank is seen stationed on the border between Israel and the Gaza Strip on March 13, 2014. (AFP/Jack Guez)
An Israeli army tank is seen stationed on the border between Israel and the Gaza Strip on March 13, 2014. (AFP/Jack Guez)

A truce declared by Gaza groups appeared to be largely holding on Friday with the IDF reporting a single rocket fired after two days of tit-for-tat violence.

“Moments ago, an additional rocket hit,” an army statement said at 11:47 a.m.

A spokeswoman told AFP it was the first missile to strike Israel in more than 12 hours.

It was the sixth to hit since Islamic Jihad declared on Thursday that an Egyptian-brokered truce on the Israel-Gaza border had been restored after Israeli warplanes pounded the territory in response to a barrage of rocket fire by its operatives.

The truce, which was to have taken effect at 2 p.m. on Thursday, was tested when the IDF reported further rocket fire from Gaza hours later and launched retaliatory airstrikes for a second night.

“Israeli Air Force aircraft targeted four terror sites in the southern Gaza Strip and three additional terror sites in the northern Gaza Strip,” said a military statement released around midnight.

Witnesses and Palestinian security officials said the targets included facilities near Gaza City used by the military wing of Gaza’s ruling Hamas movement.

Israeli aircraft also struck a base of the hard-line Popular Resistance Committees in the southern town of Rafah.

The army said five rockets hit Israeli territory on Thursday evening. Another two were intercepted by the Iron Dome air-defense system.

Three rockets had struck during the morning, before the announcement of the renewed truce.

On Wednesday, at least 60 rockets hit Israel and Israeli warplanes pounded Gaza in response, in the worst violence around the territory since an eight-day conflict between Israel and Hamas in November 2012.

Neither side reported any casualties.

The latest flare-up began on Tuesday when Islamic Jihad men fired a mortar round at IDF troops allegedly trying to enter southern Gaza, prompting a retaliatory airstrike that killed three of them.

In revenge, Islamic Jihad’s armed wing, the al-Quds Brigades, launched a coordinated barrage of rockets at southern Israel on Wednesday that continued into the night, with the group putting the number at 130.

Israel responded by hitting 29 targets across Gaza that night, including Islamic Jihad and Hamas bases. Another seven airstrikes followed on Thursday morning, with seven more around midnight.

‘Nothing has really ended’

Analysts said Israel was not interested in a major confrontation, but some predicted the next flare-up would only be a matter of time.

“A barrage of dozens of rockets and mortar shells is an irregular occurrence,” wrote defense analyst Alex Fishman in the daily Yedioth Ahronoth.

“What started as a campaign of revenge and deterrence evolved into a dangerous attempt by the leaders of Islamic Jihad to set a red line, meaning that every assassination of a terrorist operative will be met with fire from now on.

“This is a formula that could be put to the test very soon, perhaps even next week, and so nothing has really ended.”

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