IDF: We won’t abide anything less than total calm in Gaza

Army spokesperson issues stern warning to Palestinian terrorist groups following surge in rocket attacks against Israel

Judah Ari Gross is The Times of Israel's military correspondent.

IDF soldiers by the Gaza border, near Kibbutz Nir Am, in southern Israel, on January 13, 2016 (Hadas Parush/Flash90)
IDF soldiers by the Gaza border, near Kibbutz Nir Am, in southern Israel, on January 13, 2016 (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

The IDF spokesperson on Thursday warned terrorist groups in the Gaza Strip that the army would “do everything” to restore quiet to the region, following a week of near-nightly rocket attacks from the coastal enclave.

In a series of tweets, Brig. Gen. Ronen Manelis also indicated that in the coming months Israel may destroy more attack tunnels dug by terrorist groups in the Strip that cross into Israeli territory, in addition to the two the Israel Defense Forces demolished in the past seven weeks.

“We are doing everything we can so that calm returns [to the Gaza area],” the army spokesperson wrote.

“Anything less than total calm is simply unacceptable,” he added.

IDF Spokesperson Brig. Gen. Ronen Manelis. (Israel Defense Forces)

Manelis also appeared to address the recent calls for more aggressive Israeli retaliations to the attacks, saying the deterrence the military has created in the three and a half years since the 2014 Gaza war “wasn’t built in a day and won’t come crashing down in a week — we will not allow this [rocket] fire to continue.”

His warning came the morning after four rockets were fired at Israel from the Gaza Strip. Two were intercepted by the military’s Iron Dome, one hit an open field in the Eshkol region, and the fourth fell short of the border and struck a school run by the United Nations, according to Israeli officials.

There were no immediate reports of injuries or damage caused by the Gaza rockets themselves, but two Israelis were treated for anxiety attacks and a man in his 30s lightly injured his leg while running to a rocket shelter, the Magen David Adom rescue service said.

In response to the rocket attacks, Israeli aircraft bombed three Hamas military facilities that the army said were “used as training and weapons storage compounds.”

A Palestinian security source said there were more than 10 strikes on the targets, which included a Hamas naval site and a military base near the Shati refugee camp in northern Gaza.

In addition, the IDF announced it was closing down the crossings into Gaza for both goods and people coming into and out of the Strip, with the exception of certain approved “humanitarian cases.”

IDF Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot, left, and head of the Southern Command, Maj. Gen. Eyal Zamir, center, inspect a newly discovered ‘terror tunnel,’ believed to have been dug by Hamas terrorists from the Gaza Strip into southern Israel, on April 18, 2016. (Israel Defense Forces)

Earlier this week, the head of Israel’s Southern Command, Maj. Gen. Eyal Zamir, also issued a warning to residents of the Gaza Strip, telling them not to allow terrorist groups to attack Israel as it would result in a conflict in which Palestinian civilians would ultimately be the losers.

“Calm is in the interest of civilians on both sides of the border. Don’t let terrorist organizations drag you into a situation that will, first and foremost, hurt you,” Zamir said in a speech, which was shared by the army’s Arabic-language spokesperson on social media.

Since last Wednesday, over a dozen rockets have been launched from Gaza. According to Israeli officials, five of these rockets have landed in Israeli territory, six were intercepted by the Iron Dome and several have failed to clear the security fence and landed inside Gaza.

Police find a rocket, fired from Gaza, inside a kindergarten in the southern Israeli town of Sderot on December 9, 2017. (Israel Police)

Two of the rockets that hit Israel struck the town of Sderot, which has over the years been the target of thousands of missile attacks. One rocket hit the courtyard of a kindergarten, shattering a window and causing light damage to the building. The school was empty at the time. The second rocket struck a street, damaging cars and at least one house.

These approximately 15 rocket launches in one week represent a significant increase in the number of attacks against Israel in recent years.

According to statistics from the Shin Bet security service, 26 rockets were fired from the Gaza Strip in all of 2015, 20 in 2016, and nine from January to November 2017.

This sudden spike in December has prompted local and national politicians to call for harsher military responses and raised concerns that Israel might be headed for another conflict with terrorist groups in the Strip.

Sderot Mayor Alon Davidi urged the government and military to take aggressive action.

Police find a rocket, fired from Gaza, inside a kindergarten in the southern Israeli town of Sderot on December 9, 2017. (Israel Police)

“I expect the prime minister, the defense minister, and the IDF commander to strike the terror groups without mercy,” Davidi said. “We will not tolerate the continued fire at the city of Sderot.”

These attacks have been carried out not by Hamas, which has ruled the coastal enclave for over a decade, but by more fringe groups.

Nevertheless, Israel maintains that it holds Hamas responsible for any attack emanating from Gaza.

“Hamas is solely responsible for what happens in the Strip; therefore we expect it to stop the [rocket] fire and to fulfill its responsibilities,” Manelis wrote in a tweet.

The spokesperson also took a shot at the Palestinian group, saying it “takes Iranian money for terrorist infrastructure and not to help its citizens.”

Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh gestures as he delivers a speech over US President Donald Trump’s decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, in Gaza City, December 7, 2017. (SAID KHATIB/AFP)

The more than a dozen rocket attacks followed calls by Hamas for a new intifada in response to US President Donald Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital last week, as well as increased IDF efforts to find and destroy tunnels from the Gaza Strip that enter Israeli territory.

One such tunnel that Israel says belonged to Hamas was destroyed by the army on Sunday. Another that was being built by the Palestinian Islamic Jihad was blown up on October 30.

In response to the blast, which killed 14 terrorists, the Islamic Jihad vowed revenge and carried out a large mortar attack one month later on an Israeli military post northeast of the Gaza Strip, which caused damage but no injuries to IDF troops.

In his series of tweets, Manelis indicated that more tunnel demolitions should be expected in the near future.

Israeli troops prepare to destroy a Hamas attack tunnel that entered Israeli territory from the Gaza Strip, on December 9, 2017. (Israel Defense Forces)

“The IDF’s goal is that by the end of the year the will not be any subterranean infrastructure entering Israel and violating Israel’s sovereignty,” he wrote.

Hamas last week called for a new intifada against Israel and urged Palestinians to confront soldiers and settlers, allowing thousands of Gazans to confront Israeli troops at the Gaza border fence. Two Palestinians were shot dead by Israeli troops in these protests along the security fence, after the IDF says they repeatedly refused to heed calls and warnings to keep away from the barrier.

In an address last Wednesday from the White House, Trump defied worldwide warnings and insisted that after repeated failures to achieve peace a new approach was long overdue, describing his decision to recognize Jerusalem as the seat of Israel’s government as merely based on reality.

The move was hailed by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and by leaders across much of the Israeli political spectrum. Trump stressed that he was not specifying the boundaries of Israeli sovereignty in the city, and called for no change in the status quo at the city’s holy sites.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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