Israeli communities bordering the Gaza Strip called off the additional safety precautions that were set to be enforced on Tuesday amid heightened tensions between Israel and Palestinian terrorist groups over the destruction of an attack tunnel by Israeli forces.
On Monday night, the two local councils bordering the Strip — Eshkol and Shaar Hanegev — announced that students were to be kept in protected areas and not allowed outside for recess and that farmers were also to be kept away from the border.
However, on Tuesday morning, both councils canceled those safety measures and were “returning to normal,” officials said.
“Studies will take place, as usual, without special instructions,” a spokesperson for the Eshkol region said.
Kibbutz Kissufim, which is closest to the attack tunnel, was set to remain a “closed military zone” on Tuesday, meaning only residents were allowed to enter, the army said.
The military cordoned off the area on Monday after the attack tunnel was detonated.
“But there are no other instructions for residents,” an army spokesperson said on Tuesday morning.
At least seven Palestinians were killed, including two senior terrorist commanders, and another 12 injured on Monday when the Israeli army blew up an attack tunnel stretching from the Gaza Strip into Israeli territory, the Hamas-run Gaza Health Ministry said, in the deadliest incident in the coastal enclave since the 2014 Gaza war.
In the aftermath, the Palestinian Islamic Jihad and Hamas terror groups released statements threatening retaliation, which prompted an Israeli attempt to calm the tensions.
The Israeli army explained that it did not intend to kill the two senior members of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad group in the detonation, but were only looking to destroy the tunnel itself.
Military spokesman Ronen Manelis said it was a defensive operation in Israeli territory aimed at putting the tunnel out of order. He said most of the fatalities were from smoke inhalation and other secondary aspects of the blast.
Another IDF spokesperson, Avichay Adraee, took to Twitter in Arabic, saying: “The explosion took place inside Israeli territory. The majority of the dead were activists that entered the tunnel after it was blown up and died in the Gaza Strip, and not as a [direct] result of the explosion.”
Israel deployed its Iron Dome rocket interceptor systems in the area in case the Palestinians tried to respond with rocket fire.
“We are not interested in an escalation but we are ready for all scenarios,” the army said Monday.
Palestinian media reported that Islamic Jihad wanted an immediate, coordinated military response, while Hamas was urging caution and coordination with Egypt in order not to jeopardize the fragile Palestinian unity deal that is supposed to be implemented over the coming weeks.
The Hamas-run Gaza Health Ministry said five of the dead were Islamic Jihad members, including two senior commanders, Arafat Abu Murshad, the Islamic Jihad’s central Gaza commander and his deputy Hassan Abu Hassanein. The other three were named as Ahmad Khalil Abu Armana, 25, Omar Nasar al-Fallit, 27, and Jihad Abdullah al-Samiri, 32.
Two Hamas members, Musbah Shabir, 30 and Mujahid Mohammed Marwan Algha, were also killed during the rescue operation, Hamas said.
“This is a massacre,” said senior Islamic Jihad leader Khaled al-Batash. “All our options are open. We will take all considerations into account, but we will not allow the enemy to set the rules of engagement.”
“The Zionist terror government must realize that we will not hesitate to protect our people and our land,” Islamic Jihad spokesman Dawood Shehab said on Twitter, adding that the terror group “is considering all of its options,” including the “option of responding to this aggression.”
Islamic Jihad is the second-largest terror group in Gaza after Hamas.
The IDF said the tunnel was discovered inside Israeli territory near the Gaza Strip and is believed to have been dug after 2014. The tunnel was being built by the Islamic Jihad terror group. It ran from the Gazan city of Khan Younis, crossed under the border for dozens of meters, and approached Kibbutz Kissufim.
Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman said Monday no Israelis were endangered by the tunnel. An IDF spokesperson said while the underground passage extended under Israeli territory, there was no tunnel opening on the Israeli side, according to the Ynet news website.
Times of Israel staff and Agencies contributed to this report.