New rocket attacks, Israeli strikes amid reports of Gaza ceasefire

Islamic Jihad and Hamas-affiliated media claim truce reached with Egypt’s help, but Israeli officials deny hostilities have ended

An Israeli army vehicle patrols along the border between Israel and the Gaza Strip on May 29, 2018. (AFP PHOTO / Jack GUEZ)
An Israeli army vehicle patrols along the border between Israel and the Gaza Strip on May 29, 2018. (AFP PHOTO / Jack GUEZ)

Terror groups in the Gaza Strip said Tuesday night a ceasefire deal to end a day of cross-border attacks with Israel had been reached under Egyptian mediation, while Israeli officials denied a truce had been agreed upon.

The conflicting reports came as Gazans continued shooting barrages of projectiles at southern Israel, capping a day that saw over 70 rockets and mortars fired at communities near the Gaza border. Israel also renewed retaliatory airstrikes on Gaza before midnight, hitting targets in the northern Gaza Strip.

An Islamic Jihad said spokesman said a “ceasefire agreement was reached with Israel to return to calm.”

He told AFP that Gaza’s rulers Hamas were also committed to it.

The ceasefire was slated to begin at midnight, according to reports.

The Shehab news outlet, which is affiliated with the Hamas terrorist group, reported that Egypt helped broker the agreement, which was based on the truce reached at the end of the 2014 Gaza war.

An Israeli Air Force F-15 takes off during the Blue Flag air exercise at the Ovda air force base, north of the Israeli city of Eilat, on November 8, 2017. (Jack Guez/AFP)

But a senior Israeli official denied that a deal had been reached.

“The reports of a ceasefire are not correct,” the official told reporters, speaking on condition of anonymity.

Shortly afterwards Palestinians reported that the Israeli air force was conducting new air strikes in the Strip. The military confirmed the strikes, though there were no immediate details on the targets hit.

Earlier Israeli news reports said Egypt was attempting to mediate an end to the military escalation in the Gaza Strip and had urged Palestinian terror groups to halt their attacks on Israel.

Hadashot TV news reported that Egyptian intelligence had contacted Hamas and Islamic Jihad, which in the evening claimed joint responsibility for the day’s barrages of mortar shells and rockets, and urged them to rein in projectile fire in order to prevent the violence from spiraling into a larger conflict.

Egypt had been instrumental in calming tensions in the Strip earlier this month, after clashes during violent protests along the border led to the deaths of 62 Palestinians, at least 53 of them members of terror organizations.

Tuesday saw at least 70 rockets and mortar shells launched into Israel from Gaza, as well as dozens of retaliatory strikes by the IDF against terror targets in the Strip, after weeks of soaring tensions in the region stemming from weekly protests on the border. In an early morning mortar shell barrage, one shell exploded in the yard of a kindergarten shortly before children arrived.

A picture taken from Gaza City on May 29, 2018, shows a smoke billowing in the background following an Israeli air strike on the Palestinian enclave. (AFP PHOTO / THOMAS COEX)

Israeli officials and Hamas and Islamic Jihad both sent out signals Tuesday evening that they were uninterested in a further escalation of violence, even as sporadic rocket fire trickled out of the Strip after sundown.

“We are not set on escalating the situation, but the Israel Defense Forces will respond forcefully to all fire from the Strip and will exact a price,” a senior Israeli official said, after a top-level emergency meeting convened by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad terrorist groups, jointly responsible for the hours of salvos of rockets and mortar rounds at Israel, released similar messages through Palestinian media, saying they were not interested in escalating the situation but that “you must be stupid to think that we won’t retaliate.”

Earlier, Intelligence Minister Yisrael Katz told Army Radio the cross-border violence could potentially intensify.

He said Israel was closer to war than it had been since 2014, when the country fought a punishing 50 day war with Gaza-led fighters that the enclave has yet to recover from.

“We don’t want war and neither do they, but we have our red lines,” Katz said.

The site where a mortar shell from Gaza hit a kindergarten in southern Israel, near the border with Gaza on May 29, 2018. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Meanwhile the US requested an urgent meeting of the UN Security Council to discuss Palestinian attacks on Israel, the US mission said.

The council was expected to meet Wednesday to discuss the cross-border violence.

“The recent attacks out of Gaza are the largest we have seen since 2014,” US Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley said in a statement. “The Security Council should be outraged and respond to this latest bout of violence directed at innocent Israeli civilians, and the Palestinian leadership needs to be held accountable for what they’re allowing to happen in Gaza.”

The international community was largely supportive of Israel throughout Tuesday, condemning terror group’s salvos of rockets and mortars on civilian populations, while calling on both sides to work towards calm.

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