Roadblocks removed, schools to reopen after day of shaky calm on Gaza border

Authorities resume running trains through south, begin removing restrictions as informal ceasefire following day of fighting appears to hold

IDF soldiers stand by a military bulldozer moving concrete barricades to open a road that was shuttered by the army a day earlier near the Gaza border, on March 26, 2018. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
IDF soldiers stand by a military bulldozer moving concrete barricades to open a road that was shuttered by the army a day earlier near the Gaza border, on March 26, 2018. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The Gaza border area slowly returned to normal on Tuesday, a day after a sharp spike in violence between Gaza and Israel that led local councils to close schools, roads and train routes throughout southern Israel.

Defense officials said Tuesday afternoon they believed the danger of an escalation in violence had passed for the time being, with Israel and Hamas reportedly reaching an informal ceasefire.

The Israel Defense Forces began removing road blocks and other obstacles around the Gaza Strip that prevented civilians from approaching the area, including access roads to some border villages like Kibbutz Nahal Oz.

The army also said schools would reopen after consultations with local officials, and all other restrictions lifted.

Officials earlier ordered train traffic to resume, opening stations over the course of the afternoon.

The first train in the area left Ashkelon for Beersheba at 4:10 p.m., and another left Beersheba for Ra’anana at 5:20 p.m.

The return to normal came after a day of relative calm following a night in which over 60 rockets were launched from the Gaza Strip and the IDF struck dozens of targets in the Palestinian territory.

After firing around 30 rockets and mortar shells at Israel Monday evening, the Hamas terror group said it had accepted an Egyptian-brokered ceasefire agreement with Israel that entered into effect at 10 p.m. But terrorists in the Strip continued to attack southern Israel into the night, with the army saying another 30 projectiles were launched between 10 p.m. and 3:15 a.m.

Israel carried out heavy bombardments in Gaza, striking several targets across the Strip, including the office of Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh. On Tuesday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warned Israel could step up the attacks as an Israeli official denied it had agreed to a ceasefire.

The wreckage of what was once a building housing the offices of Hamas chairmain Ismail Haniyeh in Gaza City on March 26, 2019, the morning after it was destroyed by Israeli strikes in response to a rocket from the Palestinian enclave that hit a house and wounded seven Israelis. (Israel Defense Forces)

The IDF had shuttered schools across the south on Tuesday in response to the fighting, and put other rules in place to limit large gatherings.

Train routes throughout the south were also canceled over fear that stations and tracks could be struck in a rocket barrage.

Businesses were allowed to operate as usual so long as there was easy access to bomb shelters nearby. Farmers were also permitted to return to their fields if they coordinated their work with the local military brigade.

No Israelis were injured in the rocket attacks, though a home in the southern town of Sderot sustained a direct hit by a rocket that did not explode.

The round of fighting began with a rocket that slammed into a home in the town of Mishmeret northeast of Tel Aviv, leveling a home and injuring seven people.

Israeli security forces inspect the scene of a house that was hit by a rocket fired from the Gaza Strip in the town of Mishmeret in central Israel on March 25, 2019. (Noam Revkin Fenton/Flash90)

The rocket strike, which was 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.

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 at the weekend to mark a year since the start of the so-called March of Return protests, which began March 30, 2018.

Additional Iron Dome air defense batteries have been deployed throughout the country and two additional brigades were dispatched to the Gaza region.

The army also called up approximately 1,000 reservists for air defense and other select units.

Raphael Ahren, Adam Rasgon and Jacob Magid contributed to this report.

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