IDF gives all-clear to southern residents as Gaza ceasefire appears to hold

Military calls off limitation on large gatherings near Gaza border, requirement to be near bomb shelter, following flareup in which 200 rockets and mortar shells fired at south

Judah Ari Gross is The Times of Israel's religions and Diaspora affairs correspondent.

A child looks at the scene where a courtyard of a house was hit by a Gaza rocket in the southern Israeli city of Sderot, on July 14, 2018. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)
A child looks at the scene where a courtyard of a house was hit by a Gaza rocket in the southern Israeli city of Sderot, on July 14, 2018. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

Authorities called for residents of southern Israel to “return to normal” on Sunday morning, as a shaky ceasefire ending one of the most intense days of fighting on the border in years appeared to hold overnight.

The military’s Home Front Command canceled all of the restrictions it had placed on communities in the Gaza periphery the night before, which called for residents to stay within sprinting distance of bomb shelters in case of rocket attack and limited the size of public gatherings.

Farmers, who had been required to coordinate their movements with the local military brigade, were also cleared to work in their fields freely.

“It is a full return to normal,” an army spokesperson said.

The new instructions came despite a smattering of mortar attacks aimed at southern Israel following the ceasefire in the pre-dawn hours of Sunday morning, indicating the military believes the cessation of hostilities will continued to hold.

The ceasefire followed a day in which some 200 projectiles were launched from Gaza at Israeli communities near the border, putting the area on war footing.

Remains of a rocket fired by terrorist groups in the Gaza Strip that struck southern Israel near the Gaza broder on July 14, 2018. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

Residents spent most of Saturday in or near bomb shelters as mortar shells and rockets rained down on their communities throughout the day.

Beginning at 1:30 a.m. on Saturday, some 200 rockets and mortar shells were fired at southern Israel from Gaza, according to the Israel Defense Forces. The majority of them, well over 100, landed in open fields. Over 30 of them were intercepted by the Iron Dome missile defense system. A number landed within the perimeters of communities in southern Israel.

Three Israelis were wounded when rockets hit a home and a synagogue in the border town of Sderot. They were taken to the hospital in moderate condition.

A number of other projectiles that landed inside communities in the Eshkol region of southern Israel caused light damage to buildings and infrastructure. In some communities, the mortar shells knocked down power lines, causing temporary outages, a spokesperson for the regional council said.

Damage caused to the back yard of a house that was hit by a rocket from Gaza in the southern Israeli city of Sderot, on July 14, 2018. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

In response, the IDF launched its largest bombing campaign against Hamas targets in the Strip since the 2014 Gaza war, hitting dozens of targets, the military said.

The Hamas-run Gaza health ministry said that two teenagers, aged 15 and 16, were killed in one of the IDF strikes on Saturday, on a building that the military said was used by Hamas for urban combat training and was situated over a tunnel that led into a “massive” underground network in Gaza. The army said warning messages were put out to Palestinian residents of the area before the attack.

Israel launched the first airstrikes early Saturday after an IDF officer was injured by a grenade thrown at him during a violent riot along the Gaza border on Friday.

Smoke rises above buildings during an Israeli air strike on Gaza City on July 14, 2018. (AFP PHOTO / MAHMUD HAMS)

Hamas, which rules Gaza, claimed its rocket firings were a response to Israeli strikes, adding that the organization would cease launching projectiles if the Jewish state stopped attacking targets in the Strip.

On Saturday night, Hamas and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad terrorist groups announced that they agreed to a ceasefire with Israel, following talks with Egypt and other international bodies.

“The regional and international mediation has led to an end of the current escalation between the resistance and the occupation forces,” Hamas said.

A senior Israeli defense official would not directly comment on the reported ceasefire, but said: “Facts on the ground will determine our continued response.”

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