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As Gaza attacks persist, Netanyahu says Israel preparing for wider fight

PM says he’s treating cross-border arson like rocket fire, hopes broader confrontation with Hamas can be avoided

View of a fire near Kibbutz Be'eri, caused by kite-borne arson devices launched from Gaza, near the border with the Gaza Strip, August 13, 2020. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
View of a fire near Kibbutz Be'eri, caused by kite-borne arson devices launched from Gaza, near the border with the Gaza Strip, August 13, 2020. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Tuesday said Israel is treating airborne incendiary attacks from the Gaza Strip like rocket attacks and reluctantly preparing for the possibility of a wider bout of fighting, while warning the enclave’s rulers Hamas would be making a “very big mistake” if it keeps up the violence.

“We have adopted a policy under which a fire is treated as a rocket,” he told southern mayors in a phone call, as dozens of fires burned farmland in southern Israel on Tuesday as a result of cross-border airborne arson attacks.

Hours after his phone call, a rocket was fired at Israel, setting off sirens in Ashkelon. The projectile apparently fell in an open field, causing no injuries.

“We have, for 10 days consecutively, been striking Hamas and [other] terror groups’ infrastructure. We are also applying various sanctions in areas that are important to Hamas. Unfortunately, we are also preparing, as needed, for the possibility of a round, or [multiple] rounds, [of fighting]. I hope we won’t get to this,” said Netanyahu, according to a readout from his office.

Increasing restrictions on Gaza, Egyptian mediation, and nightly Israeli Air Force strikes on Hamas observation posts have so far failed to prevent Gaza-based terror groups from launching balloon-borne arson devices and explosives into Israel. Several rockets have also been fired at southern Israel this week, and were intercepted by the Iron Dome missile defense system.

“Hamas will be making a very big mistake if it continues with this. It is already getting an indication of where this will lead, and it certainly remembers where it has led in the past; and I hope Islamic Jihad also remembers where it led,” added Netanyahu.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu discusses the Israel-UAE normalization deal at the PM’s office in Jerusalem, on August 13, 2020. (Yonatan Sindel/ Flash90)

Israeli firefighters have been battling fires in southern Israel for days, with 39 sparked on Tuesday alone, as tensions rise. Thousands of dunams have been set alight so far; 850 dunams (210 acres) burned in the first half of last week alone, according to Israeli authorities. Rockets attacks have also been increasing, including two on Sunday that were intercepted by the Iron Dome air defense system.

Fragments of an Iron Dome interceptor missile struck outside a home in the town of Sderot, causing damage to the structure and lightly injuring a 58-year-old man.

Israel has responded to the attacks with near-nightly air raids, as well as punitive measures such as closing the Kerem Shalom crossing and shrinking Gaza’s permitted fishing zone.

Gaza’s only power plant ceased functioning on Tuesday morning, drastically reducing the amount of electricity Gaza residents will receive, the Gaza Energy Authority announced. Israel banned diesel fuel from entering the Gaza Strip through the Kerem Shalom crossing on Thursday after dozens of balloons and several rockets were launched from Gaza into Israeli territory.

The tensions have come after several months of calm along the border, thanks to a tacit ceasefire that managed to break a cycle which had seen recurring skirmishes along the border, as well as rocket attacks, some deep in Israeli territory.

Palestinian groups claim that the current escalation is the result of Israel violating a 2018 ceasefire agreement with Hamas. Some reports in Hebrew media, however, suggest that Hamas is attempting to pressure the Qatari government — which has been a major source of humanitarian aid to the Gaza Strip — to continue its payments to poor Gazan families, which are scheduled to end in September.

A Palestinian man stands at a closed power generating facility in the middle of the Gaza Strip, on August 17, 2020. (MOHAMMED ABED / AFP)

A delegation of Egyptian intelligence officials visited the Gaza Strip on Monday, reportedly to negotiate an agreement which would reduce tensions between the Hamas terror leadership and Israel. They left Gaza on Monday evening through the Erez-Beit Hanoun crossing with Israel without announcing whether or not an agreement had been reached.

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