Tense but quiet night in south after violence

Hamas asks Egypt to help restore calm after Israel strikes targets in response to deadly sniper attack

Illustrative photo of IDF patrol vehicles (Gili Yaari/Flash90/File)
Illustrative photo of IDF patrol vehicles (Gili Yaari/Flash90/File)

While tensions remained high in southern Israel overnight Tuesday-Wednesday following the deadly incidents in and around the Gaza Strip earlier in the day, there was no reported fire from either side of the border.

Isam Daalis, an adviser to Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh, said that Hamas had contacted Egyptian authorities and asked them to help restore calm to the area after a sharp escalation in violence that began when an Israeli man working on the border fence with Gaza, 22-year-old Saleh Abu Latif, was shot dead by a sniper from within the Hamas-controlled coastal strip.

The IAF responded with a series of airstrikes on Hamas targets that were accompanied by fire from IDF ground forces gathered along the border. According to Palestinian sources in the Strip, two people — a 3-year-old child named Hala Sabiha and her father — were killed during the Israeli strikes, and nine were injured.

Hamas spokesman Mushir al-Mosri said the various Palestinian resistance movements were meeting to discuss their response to the attacks.

President Shimon Peres sounded a warning in statement released on Tuesday evening.

“If Gaza wants quiet then they should act accordingly and if not, they will bear the results,” Peres said. “Gaza is not under any occupation. If they think the world will continue to support them while they create more victims then they are wrong. We will guarantee our security.”

22-year-old Saleh Abu Latif, killed by a Gaza sniper Tuesday, December 12 (photo credit: screen shot/ Channel 2)
22-year-old Saleh Abu Latif, killed by a Gaza sniper Tuesday, December 24 (photo credit: screen shot/ Channel 2)

In addition to the military action, Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon ordered an indefinite closure of the Kerem Shalom cargo crossing on the southern Gaza border. Ya’alon said that the closure was due to security concerns.

“We will not allow for daily life to be disrupted in the south,” he emphasized shortly after the sniper attack, “and will respond aggressively and painfully to any threat that may compromise our sovereignty and harm our citizens and soldiers. I suggest that Hamas not test our patience, and assert its authority in the region. If there will be no peace in Israel, there will be no peace in Gaza.”

“There is no direct connection between the terrorist attacks of the past two days and the shooting at the border of the Gaza Strip, which resulted in the death of an Israeli worker, but we treat all such incidents very seriously,” Ya’alon added.

The Gaza clashes came alongside a series of terror incidents this week that saw a bomb explode on a bus in Bat Yam on Sunday minutes after the occupants were safely evacuated, and a policeman stabbed in the back in near Jerusalem on Monday. There was also an attempted drive-by shooting at an IDF jeep on Tuesday night that caused no damage or injuries as well as other attacks on Israeli civilians and police in the West Bank.

Economy and Trade Minister Naftali Bennett blamed the Palestinian Authority for the increase in violence because, he said, it goads the Palestinian population to carry out terror.

“Israel is continuing with the peace process as though there is no terror while the Palestinians are continuing the terror as though there is no peace process,” he wrote in a post on his Facebook page. “The claim that the Palestinian Authority is not connected to the terror attacks is blowing up in our faces every day.”

“When you educate children in terror from the age of kindergarten, when your television broadcasts depict Jews as monsters, when even Tel Aviv is not on your maps — then you are a terrorist,” he concluded.

According to Israel Radio, the IAF attacks destroyed a Hamas military training facility west of the Khan Yunis refugee camp. The report added that Hamas targets in the Gaza neighborhood of Zaytoun and the Al-Bureij camp were damaged by the IAF as well.

Israeli sources said Hamas has pointedly neglected its duties under agreements reached following last year’s Operation Pillar of Defense, according to which Hamas was responsible for patrolling the Gazan side of the border and preventing attacks on Israel from the Strip.

Times of Israel Staff contributed to this report.

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