Israelis in the south of the country shifted back to their daily routines on Friday as violence from the Gaza Strip subsided and a tense calm set in, following a two-day bout of fighting that saw some of the heaviest rocket fire and retaliatory Israeli airstrikes since the 2014 Gaza war.
The military on Friday lifted all the security restrictions it had put in place for Israeli communities near the Gaza border in the preceding days.
At 6:00 a.m., the Home Front Command announced that it had lifted all previously ordered precautions in the town of Netivot and communities in the central Negev region, while initially keeping restrictions in place for areas closer to the Gaza border. In addition, the military said that the train service between Ashkelon and the town of Sderot would resume.
At 12:30 p.m., the Israel Defense Forces said it also was removing the restrictions for all communities in southern Israel, including those closest to the Gaza border.
Beginning Wednesday, the IDF’s Home Front Command ordered residents of southern Israel to remain within close distance of a bomb shelter. Summer camps and educational activities were canceled on Thursday, and farmers were required to receive special permission in order to work their fields for fear of attack from the Palestinian enclave. The size of public gatherings were also restricted.
All of these limitations were removed on Friday, as a fragile truce between Israel and the Gaza-ruling Hamas terrorist group prevailed, with no rocket attacks from the Strip or Israeli airstrikes since an apparent ceasefire went into effect at midnight.
On Thursday night, Hamas said a ceasefire had been reached “on the basis of mutual calm.” It said the deal was mediated by Egypt and other regional players.
Israel denied there was a truce, but a senior Israeli official told Israel Radio that “quiet would be met with quiet.” There were no instances of violence reported along the border overnight.
A senior Hamas official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the deal had formally gone into effect at midnight.
He said the agreement merely ended the latest two-day round of violence between Israel and Hamas, adding that Egypt would continue efforts to broker a long-term truce.
Israel’s Channel 10 TV, quoting diplomatic sources, said the deal had been brokered by Egypt and United Nations envoy for Middle East peace Nickolay Mladenov.
The ceasefire reports came just an hour after the security cabinet completed a four-hour meeting on Gaza, instructing the military to “continue acting forcefully” against terror groups in the Strip.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu convened the security cabinet on Thursday evening to discuss the violence in the south, as IDF jets flattened a five-story building in the Gaza Strip it said served as a headquarters for Hamas’s internal security service.
“The [security] cabinet instructed the IDF to continue acting forcefully against terrorists,” a statement from the Prime Minister’s Office said at the conclusion of the meeting.
An Israeli official told reporters Hamas has been seeking an Egyptian-mediated ceasefire throughout the day on Thursday, after an earlier truce that went into effect in the afternoon was breached after some two hours. In the absence of a deal, Israel was able to target “valuable” Hamas military targets in Gaza, the official said.
Earlier on Thursday, the IDF said in a statement its airstrike on the building in northern Gaza came in response to Hamas rocket fire that was launched deep inside Israeli territory. The statement said the building was the headquarters for Hamas’s internal security service, which served as the “operational arm” of the terror group. The building also served as a cultural center.
Also Thursday, Hamas insisted that neither it nor the Islamic Jihad terror group were responsible for Thursday’s rocket attack on Beersheba that ruptured a two-hour ceasefire and marked a significant increase in the level of violence from Gaza.
According to a report by Hadashot news, the Hamas leadership blamed a radical Salafist group in the Gaza Strip for launching the rocket 40 kilometers away, provoking the Israeli retaliation.
On Facebook, Hamas spokesman Hazim Qassim slammed Israel for its “deliberate bombardment and destruction of cultural center,” calling it a “barbaric act that belongs in the Dark Ages.”
Eighteen Palestinians were wounded in the Israeli strike on the alleged Hamas headquarters, according to the Hamas-run Gaza health ministry. The degree of their injuries was not immediately known.
IDF spokesman Lt. Col. Jonathan Conricus said Thursday that Gaza terror groups have fired about 150 rockets at Israel in the past 24 hours, while Israel has struck some 140 Hamas targets in Gaza.
He said the rocket that landed in Beersheba — some 40 kilometers (25 miles) from the Gaza border– required a more powerful, longer-range rocket, marking a significant escalation in violence.
Agencies contributed to this report