Army chief says Gaza deal for calm is working, violence along border is down

But Aviv Kohavi also signals to leaders of communities near border of Hamas-run enclave that IDF will not allow arson balloons to be launched into Israel forever

Illustrative: An Israeli firefighter battles a fire started by an incendiary device launched from the Gaza Strip, near the Gaza border fence, May 15, 2019. (AP/Tsafrir Abayov)
Illustrative: An Israeli firefighter battles a fire started by an incendiary device launched from the Gaza Strip, near the Gaza border fence, May 15, 2019. (AP/Tsafrir Abayov)

Israel’s top general said on Friday an unofficial deal with Gazan terrorists for calm along the border was proving effective, but appeared to warn that the army would not let Palestinians launch arson balloons into Israel indefinitely.

Army Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Aviv Kohavi made the comments to the heads of communities near the normally restive Gaza border.

The meeting was his first with them since he became the head of the Israel Defense Forces earlier this year.

Kohavi said there had been a decrease in the number of incendiary devices flown into Israel and violence along the border fence had calmed significantly from earlier this year, when clashes between protesting Palestinians and Israeli troops had been a near-daily occurrence.

A Palestinian family rides a donkey cart past a destroyed building in Gaza City on June 4 , 2019. (MOHAMMED ABED / AFP)

“The decrease… is not coincidental,” he said, according to Hebrew-language media. “Right now, we prefer to give the arrangement a chance.”

Despite several fires in the area being blamed on incendiary devices attached to balloons launched into Israel from Gaza, the region has not seen any major bouts of fighting since a since a deadly two-day flare-up in early May that saw almost 700 rockets fired into Israel and hundreds of retaliatory airstrikes.

IDF Chief of Staff Aviv Kochavi (2nd from right) meets with local leaders near the Gaza border on June 7, 2019 (IDF Spokesman)

Kohavi’s comments appeared to confirm the existence of a ceasefire deal with Hamas and other Gaza based terror groups to ease conditions in the Strip in exchange for calm along the border, reached in the wake of that clash on May 4 and 5.

In a photo released by the Israel Defense Forces on February 26, 2019, Chief of Staff Aviv Kohavi (2nd-L) speaks with soldiers taking part in a snap drill at the Tzeelim base in southern Israel simulating a future military conflict in the Gaza Strip. (Israel Defense Forces)

Israel has refused to officially acknowledge the ceasefire deal, despite moves being made to ease conditions in the Strip.

Hamas, the de facto ruler in the Strip, and the Iran-backed Islamic Jihad terror group had both confirmed the internationally brokered deal.

As part of the reported agreement Israel agreed to extend an allowable fishing zone off the coast of Gaza and approved Qatari funds of millions of dollars into the enclave, aimed at helping ease the dire humanitarian situation there, among other moves.

A Palestinian man displays a 100 dollar bill, part of $480 million in aid allocated by Qatar, in Gaza City on May 13, 2019. (MOHAMMED ABED / AFP)

But Kohavi also told the local leaders that “we cannot let the balloon terror continue.”

A general view of the fishing port in Gaza City, on May 5, 2019. (MOHAMMED ABED / AFP)

Over the last several weeks, Israel has responded to the balloons by reducing the allowable fishing zone off the Gaza coast for several days at a time.

On Thursday, Israel reduced the fishing zone off the Gaza from 15 nautical miles back to 10 miles, a day after bringing it back up to 15 miles.

The move was apparently in response to four incendiary balloons from the coastal enclave that caused small fires in southern Israel on Tuesday.

No arson balloons landed in Israel on Wednesday or Thursday, Fire and Rescue Services spokesperson Eli Cohen said.

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