Egypt and the international community were attempting broker a ceasefire between Israel and Hamas as a massive flareup of cross-border fire continued past midnight and into Tuesday morning, with both sides being urged to step back from the brink of war.
The efforts came after a day that saw the heaviest fighting between the Israel Defense Forces and Gazans since 2014, puncturing previous efforts to bring quiet to the region, and sparking threats from both sides to ratchet up violence to the point of all-out war.
Egypt informed Israel that it must stop its “escalatory operations” in the Gaza Strip, the official PA news site reported, citing a high-level Egyptian source.
Earlier UN special envoy Nikolay Mladenov said he was working with Cairo and other parties to return calm to the region.
“The #UN is working closely with #Egypt & all concerned to ensure that #Gaza steps back from the brink. The escalation in the past 24hrs is EXTREMELY dangerous & reckless. Rockets must STOP, restraint must b shown by all! No effort must be spared to reverse the spiral of violence,” Mladenov wrote on Twitter.
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas condemned “the Israeli escalation” against the Gaza Strip and called on the international community to immediately and urgently intervene to stop it, the official PA news site Wafa reported.
Abbas, who is in Kuwait, was also in contact with regional and international officials to “stop Israeli aggression in the Gaza Strip,” Fatah Central Committee member Hussein al-Sheikh told official PA television.
Gazans terrorists shot over 300 rockets and mortars at Israeli communities near the Gaza Strip throughout the late afternoon and evening, hitting homes and buildings and injuring dozens of Israelis. The number was expected to rise as barrages continued throughout the night.
A spokesperson for Hamas’s armed wing said the terror group, the de facto ruler in the Gaza Strip, could expand the range of its rocket to the Tel Aviv region.
“Ashkelon is just the beginning. Approximately one million Zionists will be within the range of our missiles if the Zionist enemy’s decision is to continue its aggression,” the spokesman said.
The flareup began shortly after 4:30 p.m., when terrorists fired a Kornet anti-tank guided missile at an Israeli bus near the border, seriously injuring an IDF soldier who was on board at the time.
In response to the attacks, the Israeli military launched a series of strikes against dozens of targets inside the Gaza Strip, including some multi-story buildings deep inside populated areas in the Strip — a move the IDF typically foregoes in favor of attacks on facilities on the outskirts of cities in order to avoid potential collateral damage.
The army also said it targeted three attack tunnels operated by Hamas and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad, the two largest terror groups in the Strip.
Palestinian officials said at least three people, including two militants, were killed by Israeli fire and nine were wounded, and an Israeli airstrike destroyed the ruling Hamas group’s TV station.
As fighting continued late Monday, the Israeli military deployed additional troops and tanks to the Gaza border and was reportedly given a green light from policymakers to pummel terror groups in the Strip if they continued with the barrages.
Egypt has been central to mediation efforts between Israel and Gaza over the past several months, brokering several short-term periods of calm amid increased tensions along the border.
On Friday, Israel allowed $15 million of Qatari cash to be brought into Gaza in order for Hamas to pay workers as part of reported intensive Egyptian led efforts to reach a calm between the sides.
Israel and Hamas do not recognize each other and have refused to negotiate directly.
On Sunday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Israel was doing its utmost to prevent “unnecessary wars” in the Gaza Strip, but maintained that diplomacy was futile with the Hamas leaders of the Palestinian enclave who are sworn to Israel’s destruction.
Hours later, an IDF special operations officer was killed in an operation gone awry that also killed seven Palestinian gunmen in the Strip.
The renewed clashes dashed hopes that Israel and Hamas would uphold a precarious ceasefire agreement recently brokered by Egypt and the United Nations and supported by Qatar.