Israeli troops still operating in Rafah amid Gaza Strip flareup — sources
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Israeli troops still operating in Rafah amid Gaza Strip flareup — sources

IDF pulls back from northern part of Strip but remains in Egypt border town, Palestinians say; 4 Palestinians said injured in air force strikes on Hamas targets

Avi Issacharoff

Avi Issacharoff, The Times of Israel's Middle East analyst, fills the same role for Walla, the leading portal in Israel. He is also a guest commentator on many different radio shows and current affairs programs on television. Until 2012, he was a reporter and commentator on Arab affairs for the Haaretz newspaper. He also lectures on modern Palestinian history at Tel Aviv University, and is currently writing a script for an action-drama series for the Israeli satellite Television "YES." Born in Jerusalem, he graduated cum laude from Ben Gurion University with a B.A. in Middle Eastern studies and then earned his M.A. from Tel Aviv University on the same subject, also cum laude. A fluent Arabic speaker, Avi was the Middle East Affairs correspondent for Israeli Public Radio covering the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the war in Iraq and the Arab countries between the years 2003-2006. Avi directed and edited short documentary films on Israeli television programs dealing with the Middle East. In 2002 he won the "best reporter" award for the "Israel Radio” for his coverage of the second intifada. In 2004, together with Amos Harel, he wrote "The Seventh War - How we won and why we lost the war with the Palestinians." A year later the book won an award from the Institute for Strategic Studies for containing the best research on security affairs in Israel. In 2008, Issacharoff and Harel published their second book, entitled "34 Days - The Story of the Second Lebanon War," which won the same prize.

A Palestinian man inspects a damaged vehicle at his workshop after it was hit by an Israeli air strike in Gaza City, in the early hours of May 5, 2016 (AFP/MOHAMMED ABED)
A Palestinian man inspects a damaged vehicle at his workshop after it was hit by an Israeli air strike in Gaza City, in the early hours of May 5, 2016 (AFP/MOHAMMED ABED)

IDF troops remain in the southern Gaza Strip Thursday morning as part of an ongoing operation, Palestinian sources say, following repeated instances of cross-border fire from the territory in the past day and after Hamas claimed it had reached a ceasefire deal for troops to pull back in exchange for calm.

While soldiers began pulling out of the northern part of the Strip overnight Wednesday, troops continued to operate in the southern town of Rafah, Palestinian sources told The Times of Israel.

The continued IDF presence increases the possibility of a further escalation of violence, the sources said.

Hamas officials said Wednesday night that Israeli troops had begun pulling out of the territory in a bid to restore calm after violence flared earlier in the day, with mortar fire on troops operating near the border and Israeli reprisal airstrikes on Hamas positions.

Hamas official Moussa Abu Marzouk claimed Egypt had mediated an agreement that the Israeli military would move out of Gazan territory and Palestinian factions would halt their fire at IDF troops.

Hamas official Moussa Abu Marzouk, September 18, 2014. (AP/Khalil Hamra)
Hamas official Moussa Abu Marzouk, September 18, 2014. (AP/Khalil Hamra)

It was the first statement indicating that the IDF had in fact been operating beyond the border fence, as several exchanges of fire including five mortars fired at Israeli troops near the border were reported throughout the day.

It was not clear whether mortar shells and other attack on troops earlier in the day had targeted soldiers on the Israeli or Gazan side of the border.

The IDF would not comment on the matter, saying only that its forces had come under fire “during operational activities adjacent to the security fence.” Earlier reports stated that troops were searching for attack tunnels leading into Israel.

The Israeli Air Force struck four Hamas targets in northern Gaza early Thursday, hours after bombing five targets near the southern Gaza city of Rafah, in what it said was a response to mortar fire from the terror group at IDF troops on the border.

Palestinian sources reported four people — a grandfather and his three grandchildren — were injured in the strikes.

IDF Spokesman Lt. Col. Peter Lerner said in a statement that Israel “will continue to operate in order to protect the civilians of Israel from all Hamas terrorist threats above and beneath ground.”

Plumes of smoke after reported Israeli airstrikes on Rafah in the Gaza Strip on May 4, 2016. (screen capture: Twitter/Shehab)
Plumes of smoke after reported Israeli airstrikes on Rafah in the Gaza Strip on May 4, 2016. (screen capture: Twitter/Shehab)

The earlier airstrikes struck targets around Gaza’s derelict international airport and in nearby farming areas, without causing casualties, said the interior ministry for the Hamas-run Strip.

Just before the strikes were launched, Israeli officials warned Hamas to cease firing mortars at its troops on the Gaza border or face a strong military response.

The IDF believes the recent attacks on troops on the border — including gunfire at engineering corps machinery operating near the fence — mark a bid by Hamas to prevent the army from locating and destroying tunnels the group has dug since summer 2014.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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