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Shaky truce appears to hold, but IDF to keep Gaza reinforcements on border

Eisenkot orders troops to remain on high alert, meets with senior officers from Southern Command after quiet returns to south following two days of intense fighting

Judah Ari Gross is The Times of Israel's military correspondent.

An Israeli tank drives near the Israel Gaza border, Tuesday, Nov. 13, 2018. (AP/Tsafrir Abayov)
An Israeli tank drives near the Israel Gaza border, Tuesday, Nov. 13, 2018. (AP/Tsafrir Abayov)

IDF chief Gadi Eisenkot ordered reinforcements to remain in place near the Gaza Strip and for troops there to remain on high alert Wednesday, following a security assessment with senior officers from the Gaza Division, as a shaky ceasefire appeared to hold after intense fighting earlier in the week.

On Wednesday afternoon, Eisenkot met with Southern Command chief Maj. Gen. Herzi Halevi, Gaza Division commander Brig Gen. Eliezer Toledano, and the head of the 162nd Armored Division, Brig. Gen. Oded Basiuk.

“As part of the situational assessment, it was decided to maintain the readiness of the troops and the heightened amount of troops in the [Gaza] Division’s region,” the army said in a statement.

The chief of staff also discussed “different ways of using force in the future,” the military said, without elaborating.

IDF Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot, left, meets with senior officers in the military’s Southern Command on November 14, 2018. (Israel Defense Forces)

While in the south, the IDF chief also visited an IDF soldier who was seriously wounded when terrorists in the Gaza Strip fired an anti-tank guided missile at a bus that had been parked near the border, apparently against military protocol.

IDF Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot visits an Israeli soldier who was wounded in an anti-tank missile attack near the Gaza border two days before on November 14, 2018. (Israel Defense Forces)

The decision to keep troops on the border was announced a day after a de facto ceasefire went into effect, following some of the most ferocious fighting between Israel and terror groups in the Gaza Strip since the 2014 Gaza war.

According to the military, over 460 rockets and mortar shells were fired at southern Israel over on Monday and Tuesday — more than twice the rate at which they were launched during the 2014 war.

The Iron Dome missile defense system intercepted over 100 of them. Most of the rest landed in open fields, but dozens landed inside Israeli cities and towns, killing one person, injuring dozens, and causing significant property damage.

In response to the rocket and mortar attacks, the Israeli military said it targeted approximately 160 sites in the Gaza Strip connected to the Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad terror groups, including four facilities that the army designated as “key strategic assets.”

People gather outside a house that was hit by a rocket fired from the Gaza Strip in the southern Israeli city of Ashkelon, on November 13, 2018. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

The ceasefire, which was announced by Hamas but not officially confirmed by Israel, appeared to be largely holding on Wednesday evening, despite two incidents along the border earlier in the day.

The IDF Home Front Command removed all restrictions on residents of southern Israel on Tuesday night, declaring a “return to normalcy,” allowing schools, businesses, and government offices to reopen as normal on Wednesday.

More than a day after the ceasefire went into effect, the truce appeared to be holding Wednesday night, after over 24 hours with no rocket launches or Israeli airstrikes.

The quiet was briefly punctured by two altercations along the border, including one in which a Gazan man was shot and killed as he approached the Israeli border fence.

The man was identified by Gaza’s Hamas-run health ministry as 20-year-old Nawaf Ahmad al-Attar, a fisherman.

A Palestinian uses a slingshot to hurl a stone towards Israeli forces across the fence during clashes by the border with Israel east of Gaza city on July 13, 2018. (AFP PHOTO / MAHMUD HAMS)

The Israeli military confirmed that soldiers opened fire as a group of Palestinian men were spotted walking toward the border fence in the northern Gaza Strip, near the Israeli community of Kibbutz Zikim.

According to media reports, the suspect was shot as he continued approaching the fence despite warning shots being fired.

Palestinian media outlets reported that al-Attar had been killed at sea — something the IDF denied.

Earlier in the day, Israeli troops shot and arrested a Palestinian man who threw a number of grenades at the security fence in the northern Gaza Strip, the army said.

The grenades failed to explode.

According to the Israel Defense Forces, when he was arrested, the suspect was found to be in possession of a pair of boltcutters and a knife.

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