Senior official says no ceasefire with Hamas, as troops remain on Gaza border

While shaky truce appears to hold, security precautions in effect across south after massive exchange of fire between IDF and Hamas after Gaza rocket smashed home in central Israel

Illustrative. IDF forces gather in southern Israel following clashes in the Gaza Strip on November 13, 2018. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)
Illustrative. IDF forces gather in southern Israel following clashes in the Gaza Strip on November 13, 2018. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

Israel did not agree to a ceasefire with Hamas, and is ready to continue its airstrikes on targets in the Gaza Strip, a senior official in Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s entourage to Washington said Tuesday, minutes before the delegation’s plane landed in Tel Aviv.

“There was no ceasefire,” the senior official said, speaking on condition of anonymity. Netanyahu was in constant contact with the IDF chief of staff and other security officials throughout the 12-hour flight back to Israel, the official added.

Israeli troops and tanks along the Gaza border remained at the ready on Tuesday afternoon, hours after an unofficial ceasefire went into effect following the latest bout of warfare between the Israel Defense Forces and Hamas terror group in the coastal enclave.

“We had many targets in Gaza. These were the hardest blows Hamas has suffered since Operation Protective Edge,” the senior official said, referring to the 2014 war with the terrorist group in Gaza.

“We hit office buildings and other infrastructure. We sent a strong message,” the official went on. “The images were reminiscent of the end of Protective Edge.

“And we’re prepared to do even more. We will see what happens,” the official added.

Asked by The Times of Israel if Israel has adopted a “quiet will be met by quiet” formula, the official demurred. “I am not saying anything. We will see what happens.”

Netanyahu’s plane returned to Israel from the US at around 1 p.m. on Tuesday, and Netanyahu immediately made his way to the Defense Ministry headquarters in Tel Aviv for additional security consultations with IDF chief Aviv Kohavi and other top defense officials.

At this stage, Netanyahu has not convened the security cabinet, but will merely “assess the information,” the senior official said.

Though the truce, which was announced by Hamas but not formally acknowledged by Israeli officials, appeared to be holding, the Israel Defense Forces was preparing for the possibility of renewed violence in the Gaza Strip.

The latest round of violence was kindled when, just after dawn on Monday, a rocket from the southern Gaza Strip that Israel says was fired by Hamas struck a home in the town of Mishmeret, northeast of Tel Aviv, leveling the building. Two of the people inside were moderately wounded and five others, including two small children, were lightly injured.

It was the farthest-reaching rocket strike from the Strip since the 2014 war.

An infant’s swing outside the home of the Wolf family in the central Israeli village of Mishmeret, which was destroyed in the early morning hours of March 25, 2019 by a rocket fired from Gaza. (Jack Guez/AFP)

Shortly after the attack, the military sent two additional brigades to the Gaza region and called up approximately 1,000 reservists for air defense and other select units. Meanwhile, additional Iron Dome air defense batteries were deployed throughout the country.

The rocket strike, which Israeli officials attributed to Hamas, represented a significant increase in the level of violence from the coastal enclave, following weeks of heightened tensions and border clashes, as well as recent skirmishes in an Israeli jail between Hamas security prisoners and prison guards.

After a tense 12 hours of deliberations on the Israeli side and failed attempts by the Egyptian military to preemptively broker a ceasefire, the Israeli Air Force launched a large-scale retaliatory bombing campaign, destroying dozens of targets, including the offices of Hamas chairman Ismail Haniyeh in Gaza City.

At least three Palestinians were wounded in the Israeli strikes, according to the Hamas-run Gaza health ministry. The extent of their injuries was not immediately known.

In response, shortly before 8:30 p.m., terrorists in the coastal enclave began launching mortar shells and rockets at southern Israel, triggering air raid sirens throughout the region and sending tens of thousands of Israelis scrambling for bomb shelters.

A ball of fire bellows above buildings in Gaza City during Israeli strikes on March 25, 2019. (Mahmud Hams/AFP)

From Monday night and into Tuesday morning, approximately 60 projectiles were fired at Israeli towns near the Gaza Strip.

The barrages caused no injuries, but a number of projectiles struck homes in the town of Sderot in southern Israel, causing damage. Most of the rockets and mortar shells landed in open fields. Several others were intercepted by the IDF’s Iron Dome missile defense system, the army said.

The last of the rockets were fired at 3:15 a.m., despite Hamas officials saying earlier that Egypt had brokered a ceasefire that would go into effect at 10 p.m.

On Tuesday morning, the Israeli military called for a number of precautionary safety measures in southern Israel: schools in the area were closed, though some informal education was permitted so long as it took place in fortified buildings; businesses were only allowed to open if workers had easy access to bomb shelters; and some government services were not made available in light of the threat of renewed violence.

Police find damage to a building site caused by a rocket fired from the Gaza Strip, in the southern Israeli city of Sderot, near the border with Gaza late on March 25, 2019. (Israel Police)

Throughout the morning, residents of the Israeli town of Sderot found fragments of rockets from the night before.

Departing the US for Israel around 2 a.m. (Israel time), Netanyahu — who, with elections looming, has come under strong criticism from the opposition and coalition over his Gaza policies — threatened a land invasion.

“We will deal with these issues,” he said. “We gave a very powerful response. Hamas needs to know that we won’t hesitate to go in [to Gaza] and take any required steps.”

There are fears in Israel that violence will ramp up this week, with Hamas hoping to draw hundreds of thousands of rioters to the fence this weekend to mark a year of so-called March of Return protests, which began March 30, 2018.

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