Gaza and Israel are “dangerously close” to a new conflict after a flare-up of violence in recent days, the European Union warned on Friday, adding that an urgent “de-escalation” was needed to keep civilians from further risk.
“The rocket fire from Gaza towards communities in southern Israel as well as other violent actions and provocations against Israel by Hamas and other Palestinian militants are totally unacceptable,” an EU foreign affairs spokesperson added in a statement.
The EU warning came amid heightened tensions, a day after a deadly flare-up between the Israeli army and the territory’s terrorist rulers Hamas.
On Thursday Israel launched extensive air strikes on Gaza in retaliation for the launching of more than 180 rockets and mortar rounds by Hamas and its allies on Wednesday night.
Hamas announced a ceasefire around midnight on Thursday-Friday. Israel has denied it agreed to a ceasefire, though it appeared to halt its strikes in Gaza after Hamas stopped rocket attacks.
The EU statement added: “While having the right to defend itself, Israel is expected to continue to exercise restraint and do everything to avoid civilian casualties in Gaza. The death of a pregnant Palestinian mother and her child in this latest escalation is a tragic loss.
“The European Union reiterates its full support to the efforts by Egypt and the UN to reduce tensions and to alleviate the situation in Gaza, including by enhancing the international response to the current crisis and easing movement and access.”
On Friday evening, an Israeli tank struck a Hamas post in Gaza after a grenade was hurled at troops during mass riots in several locations along the border. The army said the strike came in response to a grenade attack on its forces. There were no Israel casualties in the attack.
Around 9,000 Palestinians were participating in weekly border protests. Some protesters were rioting near the fence, throwing rocks and firebombs at Israeli soldiers and burning tires to create a smokescreen. Several attempts were made to breach the security fence.
The Hamas-run Gaza health ministry reported that two Palestinians were killed in the riots, including 25-year-old medic Abdullah al-Qatati. It said over 300 people were hurt, dozens of whom it said were shot by Israeli troops.
Some rioters flew incendiary kites and balloons into Israel. Israeli officials said at least nine fires had broken out in Israeli territory since the morning due to airborne arson attacks.
Hamas, an Islamist terror group that seeks to destroy Israel, had earlier said the so-called “March of Return” border demonstrations would continue unimpeded, despite its announcement of cessation of hostilities with Israel the night before.