Gazans shoot five rockets at Israel after day of ‘restrained’ border protests
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Gazans shoot five rockets at Israel after day of ‘restrained’ border protests

Regional council says no injuries or damage from missiles, which land in open areas; fire likely to place damper on efforts to mediate truce

Israeli troop firing a tear gas cannister at Gazan protesters during border demonstrations on March 30, 2019 near kibbutz Nahal Oz. (Jack GUEZ / AFP)
Israeli troop firing a tear gas cannister at Gazan protesters during border demonstrations on March 30, 2019 near kibbutz Nahal Oz. (Jack GUEZ / AFP)

Several rockets were fired from Gaza at Israel early Sunday, officials said, marking a likely setback hours after the sides appeared to be headed for an unofficial truce following a day of low-level violence along the border.

There were no reports of injuries or damage from the rocket fire, the Eshkol Regional Council said in a statement.

The Israel Defense Forces said five rockets were fired at Israel from Gaza after sirens sounded in the Eshkol region adjacent to the southern Gaza Strip at about 12:40 a.m.

Explosions had been heard and “rocket strikes had been pinpointed to open areas,” the regional council said. It said searches were underway to locate the fired munitions.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility from Gaza.

Israeli security forces inspect the scene of a house that was hit by a rocket fired from the Gaza Strip in the town of Mishmeret in central Israel on March 25, 2019. (Noam Revkin Fenton/Flash90)

The strikes would appear to be the first rocket fire since a round of heavy fighting waned on Wednesday, following a flareup sparked when a rocket hit a home in central Israel, injuring seven people.

The renewed fire will likely place a damper on efforts between the sides to mediate a truce, after both sides expressed satisfaction with a relative lack of violence during large protests along the border Saturday, leading to hopes that understandings could be reached soon. It may also put the kibosh on plans to reopen two crossings in and out of the Strip on Sunday.

Egyptian mediators, shuttling between Israel and Gaza’s Hamas rulers, have been engaged in exhaustive efforts to broker a long-term ceasefire deal. The understandings between the sides reportedly included Hamas making arrangements for preventing violence during Saturday’s protests.

Earlier, an official with the Hamas terror group, which rules the Strip, said the sides could reach understandings for a long-term calm “within days,” and Israeli officials were reportedly looking into easing some restrictions on the Strip in place since last week after the relative lack of violence over the weekend.

Israeli military vehicles keeping position at the border fence as Palestinians waving national flags demonstrate to mark the first anniversary of the ‘March of Return’ protests, March 30, 2019. (Jack Guez/AFP)

Over 40,000 Palestinians took part in rallies at the Gaza border Saturday afternoon, with some rioters throwing grenades and explosives toward the security fence as well as lobbing rocks at troops and burning tires.

The enclave’s Hamas-run health ministry said three 17-year-old Palestinians were killed during the protests, while at least 300 were injured. Another Palestinian was shot and killed in the early morning before the main demonstration began, reportedly as he approached the border fence during overnight protests.

Most of those hurt were lightly wounded, but three were said to suffer critical injuries.

Tear gas canisters fall amongst Palestinians during a demonstration near the border with Israel, in Malaka east of Gaza City, on March 30, 2019 (Mahmud Hams/AFP)

The army said soldiers responded with “riot dispersal means” and live fire in accordance with IDF regulations, noting that most Palestinians attending the one-year anniversary of the “March of Return” protests remained at a distance from the border.

During the protests Hamas actively worked to keep protesters away from the security fence as part of apparent understandings with Israel.

IDF spokesman Ronen Manelis said Hamas, the terror group that rules Gaza, had “operated with restraint not seen in the past year.”

He said Israeli forces had observed hundreds of Hamas members wearing orange vests spread out between the crowd and the fence, preventing the masses from rushing toward the border.

In this file photo taken on March 30, 2018 Israeli soldiers keep position as they lie prone over an earth barrier along the border with the Gaza Strip in the southern Israeli kibbutz of Nahal Oz as Palestinians demonstrate on the other side commemorating Land Day. (Jack Guez/AFP)

In the past, Israel has accused Hamas of encouraging the protests and using them as cover to carry out attacks on Israeli troops stationed along the frontier. Previous demonstrations have seen dozens of deaths, including among Gazans who crossed the fence with weapons.

An Israeli diplomatic official said Israel was “satisfied” with Egyptian mediation efforts that had contributed to the relatively calm Land Day protests in Gaza. He also credited “Israeli policy that included strong air force attacks, severe warnings to Hamas and the massive deployment of the IDF.”

Speaking to the Lebanese al-Mayadeen TV channel Saturday night, Hamas deputy chief Saleh al-Arouri said “there is a good chance of reaching understandings in the coming few days.”

However, Arouri clarified that any long-term truce reached with Israel would not mean a cessation of their “resistance” efforts.”

“As far as we are concerned, there is no political or national commitment. We…will continue to [participate] in all national activities and [undertake] all forms of resistance against the occupation in every place on the Palestinian land,” the Hamas official said.

Palestinians gather during a demonstration near the border with Israel in Malaka east of Gaza City on March 30, 2019. (MAHMUD HAMS / AFP)

He said the organization’s main aim was “to remove the blockade” on Gaza, which Israel and Egypt have enforced since the group took over the territory from Fatah in a violent coup in 2007. Israel says the blockade is necessary to prevent Hamas, a terror group that openly seeks to destroy Israel, from acquiring weapons it will use to attack it.

Under the Egyptian plan, Israel is to offer economic incentives for Gaza in exchange for calm. These are said to include easing restrictions on imports and exports, extended fishing zones and more.

On Saturday night, the government had ordered the IDF to plan to open two crossings closed last week should calm remain overnight.

The Erez pedestrian crossing and the Kerem Shalom commercial terminal were both shuttered Monday after the rocket launched at central Israel. A fishing ban in place since then was also due to be lifted.

Saturday night and Sunday morning also saw dozens of Gazans demonstrating near the border fence as part of nightly protests by so called “confusion units.” The demonstrations normally include rolling burning tires at the fence as well as hurling sound grenades and improvised explosives, and shining laser pointers at troops across the border.

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