Israel, Hamas reportedly agree to ceasefire after rockets fired at Tel Aviv

Egyptian mediators said to facilitate agreement, but no confirmation from Israel; 9 rockets fired at border communities; weekly border protest called off

A Palestinian man walks past a crater on the ground following an Israeli air strike targeting a site belonging to Gaza's terror group Hamas, in Khan Yunis in the southern Gaza Strip, March 15, 2019. Israel struck Gaza terror targets after 2 rockets were fired at Tel Aviv from Gaza. (Said Khatib/AFP)
A Palestinian man walks past a crater on the ground following an Israeli air strike targeting a site belonging to Gaza's terror group Hamas, in Khan Yunis in the southern Gaza Strip, March 15, 2019. Israel struck Gaza terror targets after 2 rockets were fired at Tel Aviv from Gaza. (Said Khatib/AFP)

Israel and Hamas have agreed to a ceasefire, the Kan public broadcaster and Palestinian media reported Friday. Israel has not confirmed the reports.

The reported de-escalation came after two rockets were fired from the Strip at Tel Aviv on Thursday and the IDF hit over 100 targets in the coastal enclave in response. Nine rockets were then fired from Gaza at border communities in Israel, six of which were intercepted.

Sources in Gaza told Kan the agreement was negotiated with the help of Egyptian mediators.

A spokesperson for the Palestinian Islamic Jihad terror group, Daoud Shehab, said his organization is “committed to the ceasefire understandings” as long as Israel “halts its aggression against the Palestinian people.”

Screen capture from video showing the Tel Aviv skyline on March 14 as rocket warning sirens blare after the launch of two rockets from the Gaza Strip (IDF)

The rockets fired toward Tel Aviv were the first such occurrence since a major conflict in 2014, and did not hit residential areas and caused no direct injury. An IDF assessment found that the rockets were possibly fired toward the coastal city by mistake, and that low-level Hamas forces were responsible for the launches.

It was not immediately clarified if the IDF believed it was a technical malfunction or human error.

In response to the projectiles, Israeli war planes hit over 100 Hamas targets in the Gaza Strip overnight Thursday-Friday. Israel holds Hamas, the Islamist terror group that rules the Strip, responsible for any attacks emanating from the coastal enclave.

The sky above buildings on the Gaza Strip glows orange during an Israeli air strike in Gaza City early on March 15, 2019 after 2 missiles were fired at Tel Aviv (Mahmud Hams/AFP)

On Thursday, a Hamas official told the The Times of Israel that the terror group “has no interest in an escalation” with Israel. The official said he had “no idea” who fired rockets toward Tel Aviv.

The Hamas-run interior ministry called the rocket fire “outside the national consensus” and said it would exact measures against those behind it.

On Friday, the Palestinian committee that organizes weekly protests on the Gaza border announced it had decided “to postpone” Friday’s demonstrations “out of concern for our people and in preparation for” a much larger protest on March 30, the Hamas-affiliated Palestinian Information Center reported.

Since last March, the Gaza border has seen large-scale weekly clashes on Fridays, smaller protests along the northern Gaza border on Tuesdays, as well as periodic flareups between the Israeli military and Palestinian terror organizations. Protesters have been gathering along the frontier in often-violent protests calling for Palestinian refugees and their descendants to be allowed to return to former homes now inside Israel.

A Palestinian uses a slingshot to fling back a tear gas canister thrown by Israeli forces during clashes at the fence along the border with Israel, east of Gaza City, on March 8, 2019. (Mahmud Hams/AFP)

The organizers of the protest did not indicate whether the cancellation of Friday’s demonstration was connected to the rocket fire at Tel Aviv.

Israeli news site Ynet reported that among the targets hit by the IDF was the center Hamas’s unmanned aerial vehicle network in the southern Gaza Strip.

Following Thursday’s rocket launches at Tel Aviv, warning sirens went off three times during the night in Israeli border communities near Gaza and once more on Friday morning, with Palestinians firing nine rockets at Israel.

People standing outside a bomb shelter after it was opened by the Tel Aviv municipality on March 14, 2019, after earlier two rockets from the Gaza Strip were fired toward central Israel. (Adam Shuldman/Flash90)

The army said six were intercepted by Israel’s Iron Dome missile-defense system and one failed to clear the border. A further two rockets apparently fell in an open field. There were no reports of injuries or damage, although rocket fragments were discovered in a Sderot school.

The Israeli strikes on Gaza came after an urgent late-night consultation between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his defense chiefs in Tel Aviv. “Decisions were taken,” an Israeli official said without elaborating.

A Hamas military site is seen empty after it was hit by Israeli airstrikes in Gaza City, early Friday, Friday, March 15, 2019. Israeli warplanes attacked terror targets in the southern Gaza Strip early Friday in response to a rocket attack on the Israeli city of Tel Aviv (AP Photo/Adel Hana)

Shortly after the strikes began, the Israel Defense Forces issued a statement saying the “Hamas terror group carried out the rocket fire.”

Hamas denied it was behind the move, but Hazem Qassim, a spokesman for the terror group, said that the people of Gaza would “continue its fight.”

“Despite the Israeli aggression on the steadfast Strip, our people will not back away from its struggle against the occupier and will continue its fight to break the unjust siege,” Qassim wrote on his Facebook page.

A Palestinian inspects the damage at the Hamas Prisoners Ministry after Israeli airstrike, Gaza City, March 15, 2019 (AP Photo/Adel Hana)

On Friday morning, IDF spokesman Ronen Manelis said that over 100 Hamas targets were hit in response to the fire on Tel Aviv.

The IDF said targets included the headquarters responsible for the planning and execution of attacks in the West Bank.

In addition, the army said an underground manufacturing site of standard-grade rockets in the Gaza Strip was hit, as well as a military training site that the IDF said served as Hamas’s drone center in the south of the enclave.

Hamas-linked Al-Aqsa TV reported that Israeli aircraft fired two missiles at a target in Khan Younis. It said that the aircraft then returned and attacked the same site four more times.

Israel Radio said the site was a base belonging to Hamas naval commandos.

Palestinian media also reported multiple strikes on Gaza City and at a target in Beit Lahiya in northern Gaza.

The Hamas-run Gaza health ministry said four people were injured.

Initial reports had indicated that the Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) terror group was responsible for the rocket fire. Hebrew-language media reported that Fajr missiles were launched, which PIJ has in its arsenal.

However, that terror group also denied that it was behind the fire. PIJ spokesman Daoud Shehab called the reports “baseless lies and claims.”

Hamas and PIJ told Egyptian security officials who were in the Strip to discuss a long-term truce that they were not responsible for the rockets, Al-Jazeera reported.

The Home Front Command did not give any special instructions to Israelis and said they could continue to carry on as normal. Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai urged the public to remain calm, but added that public bomb shelters would be opened shortly.

All emergency response organizations in the Tel Aviv area increased their alertness following the incident.

Palestinian media reported that Hamas had evacuated military posts in Gaza in preparation for the Israeli response to the rockets. It also reported that the Egyptian delegation had left Gaza quickly after being instructed to evacuate by the IDF. There was no confirmation of the unsourced reports.

The missile launches came less than a month before the April 9 Knesset elections, and two months before Tel Aviv is due to host the Eurovision Song Contest, a major international event that is expected to draw many thousands of tourists from all over Europe.

Though it was the first time rockets were fired at Tel Aviv since Operation Protective Edge in the summer of 2014, launches directed at residents of Israeli communities near Gaza have remain relatively frequent. A rocket fired from Gaza last October fell out at sea across from the greater Tel Aviv area.

Agencies contributed to this report.

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