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Egypt appeals for calm amid flareup in violence between Israel and Gaza

Cairo diplomat says ‘neither side wants a full-blown war’ following retaliatory IDF airstrikes on Strip after missiles fired toward Tel Aviv

Fire and smoke rise during Israeli airstrikes in Khan Yunis, in the southern Gaza Strip, on January 2, 2022, a day after two rockets fired from Gaza landed off the coast of Tel Aviv. (Abed Rahim Khatib/Flash90)
Fire and smoke rise during Israeli airstrikes in Khan Yunis, in the southern Gaza Strip, on January 2, 2022, a day after two rockets fired from Gaza landed off the coast of Tel Aviv. (Abed Rahim Khatib/Flash90)

Egyptian officials on Sunday pushed for Israel and Gazan terror groups to rein in hostilities and adhere to a ceasefire in place since the most recent war in May.

Officials in Cairo called on Hamas and other groups in Gaza to stop actions seen by Israel as “provocative,” and for Israel to accelerate arrangements agreed upon as part of the ceasefire, an Egyptian diplomat with knowledge of the ongoing efforts said.

The diplomat spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the matter with the media.

“Neither side wants a full-blown war,” the diplomat said. “They just want guarantees and steps on the ground.”

The ceasefire, brokered by Egypt and other mediators, has been fragile but has largely held since the 11-day war between Hamas and Israel in May.

In a rare incident overnight on Sunday, Gazan terrorists targeted Israeli military helicopters with shoulder-launched anti-aircraft missiles over the Strip during airstrikes carried out by the Israel Defense Forces. The military said the missiles missed their mark and caused neither injury nor damage.

The Israeli airstrikes, which were carried out by both helicopters and fighter jets, were in response to two rockets that were fired from Gaza on Saturday morning, which landed off the coast of central Israel. Video footage showed one explode in the sea off the coast of Jaffa, next to Tel Aviv, while the second reportedly landed off the coast of Palmachim, south of the city of Rishon Lezion.

Hamas has claimed that it did not fire the rockets intentionally, but that they were triggered by inclement weather. Israeli military officials have said in similar cases in the past that due to the shoddy electrical work on Hamas’s rockets, the projectiles could be set off prematurely by weather conditions, notably lightning strikes.

At the outset of the weekly cabinet meeting on Sunday, Prime Minister Naftali Bennett said Israel was not interested in such excuses.

“All of Hamas’s stories about thunder and lightning, which we hear winter after winter, are not relevant anymore,” said Bennett. “Anyone who aims rockets at the State of Israel must take responsibility.”

According to the Kan public broadcaster, Israeli officials believe the Palestinian Islamic Jihad terror group was responsible for the rocket fire, and not Gaza’s rulers, Hamas. The network said Hamas conveyed to Israel via Egyptian mediators that it was not responsible.

The IDF said its strikes in the predawn hours of Sunday morning targeted “a rocket production facility belonging to the Hamas terror group.” IDF tanks also targeted outposts in northern Gaza, the military said. Hamas media said Israeli warplanes struck a Hamas outpost west of Khan Younis, in the southern part of the Strip.

In addition to its military strikes, Israel also informed Egypt, which has served as a mediator between it and Hamas, that the incident was unacceptable, even if the rockets were launched by accident.

“Hamas is responsible and bears the consequences for all activity in and emanating from the Gaza Strip,” the IDF said in its statement early Sunday morning.

The Beirut-based Al-Mayadeen TV, citing unnamed sources, said the Hamas terror group informed Egyptian mediators that if Israel strikes in Gaza, it would lead to a response. Egypt reportedly urged Israel not to respond at all to the rocket fire.

Aaron Boxerman, Emanuel Fabian and Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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