Report: Gaza factions had agreed to scale back protests before rockets launched
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Report: Gaza factions had agreed to scale back protests before rockets launched

Arabic daily al-Hayat says Hamas and other groups had decided to curb violent rallies in order to give ceasefire negotiations a chance

Gaza's Hamas leader Ismail Haniya flashes the V for victory sign at the Israel-Gaza border, east of Gaza city, on October 12, 2018. (Said Khatib/AFP)
Gaza's Hamas leader Ismail Haniya flashes the V for victory sign at the Israel-Gaza border, east of Gaza city, on October 12, 2018. (Said Khatib/AFP)

Hamas in recent days reached an agreement with other Palestinian factions in the Gaza Strip to reduce the scale of violent protests at the Israeli border, in a bid to boost an Egyptian effort to achieve a long-term ceasefire with Israel, the London-based Arabic daily al-Hayat reported Thursday.

According to the report, which cited unnamed senior Palestinian officials, the agreement between the factions was reached on Monday at a meeting of the “Supreme National Commission” organizing the border protests.

The timeline in the report is significant, because it implies that the major Gazan factions were looking for de-escalation when an unknown faction fired two rockets at Israel early Wednesday, one of them slamming into a home in Beersheba and destroying it.

No one was hurt in the attack because the home’s residents, a single mother and her three young sons, were huddled in the home’s reinforced bomb shelter at the time.

The second rocket landed in the sea, off the coast of a major city in central Israel.

In response to the rocket attacks, the Israeli Air Force conducted strikes against some 20 targets in the Gaza Strip Wednesday, including a border-crossing tunnel, weapons manufacturing facilities, headquarters and border posts.

Destruction is seen on a house after it was hit by a rocket fired from the Hamas-run Palestinian Gaza Strip, one of the first projectiles fired in recent weeks from Gaza, on the central Israeli city of Beersheba on October 17, 2018. (Jack GUEZ / AFP)

In a video released shortly after the airstrikes, Israel’s top military commander in the south, Maj. Gen. Herzi Halevi, said “everything that was attacked was destroyed” and promised the army would respond “more forcefully…in the future.”

Despite the flareup, however, the IDF signaled on Thursday it expected the violence to die down, notifying local councils near the Gaza border, which had shut down schools and other public institutions in expectation of further rocket attacks, that they could return to their routine.

The al-Hayat report did not explain who fired the rockets despite the alleged agreement Monday to scale back confrontations with Israel.

Quoting sources in Gaza, the report said the protest organizers’ decision was made “to reduce the losses among the protesters, and to give an opportunity for the success of Egyptian efforts to ease the Israeli siege on the territory.”

Egypt and the UN have reportedly scrambled to try to negotiate a calm between the sides since the rocket attack on Beersheba Wednesday, which came days after Israeli leaders had already threatened a wider offensive over near-daily border riots and launches of incendiary balloons and kites.

Reports Wednesday said that Abbas Kamel, head of the Egyptian General Intelligence Services, had canceled a trip to Gaza, the West Bank and Israel set for Thursday amid the tensions surrounding Gaza.

Hamas and the second largest terror group in the Strip, the Iran-backed Palestinian Islamic Jihad, officially denied carrying out the rocket attack, saying it was “irresponsible” and undermined an Egyptian-led negotiation effort.

Israeli officials rejected the claim, saying only Hamas and Islamic Jihad had the capability of shooting rockets that could reach Beersheba.

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