by Jen Kirby
06 May 2019
The Associated Press reports that least 25 Palestinians were killed, including militants and civilians, and at least four Israeli civilians died in this weekend’s violent outburst.
Palestinian militant groups — specifically Hamas and Islamic Jihad — launched nearly 700 rockets from the Gaza Strip into southern Israel, according to the Israel Defense Forces (IDF). Israel responded with a barrage of air and tank strikes, totaling about 350 by Monday morning, reports the Guardian. Israel also used targeted airstrikes, and reportedly killed a midlevel Hamas operative while he was in a car on a Gaza street. It was Israel’s first targeted killing since 2014.
The fighting escalated this weekend after Israeli forces killed four Palestinians and injured scores more on Friday, during weekly protests near the border in Gaza. The Health Ministry in Gaza said two people had been shot dead, and two others — Hamas fighters — were killed in an air raid in central Gaza. Israel said it was responding to shots fired near the border, which left two Israel soldiers wounded.
The ceasefire went into effect early Monday morning local time, and reports from Gaza and southern Israel suggest it’s holding, at least for now.
Israel did not formally announce the ceasefire, but it indicated that fighting had paused by lifting restrictions on public gatherings within a 25-mile radius of Gaza, reported the New York Times. Hamas confirmed the truce through the media, with officials telling Al Jazeera that Egypt and Qatar helped broker the ceasefire. The United Nations also stepped in, according to reports.
An official with Islamic Jihad said the terms of the ceasefire included Israel easing some of the pressure of the economic blockade, including easing limits on fishing, and improving the fuel and electricity situation in the Gaza Strip, the AFP reports, though the full details remain unclear.
Israel has maintained a nearly 12-year blockade of the Gaza Strip in an attempt to pressure and undermine Hamas, the Palestinian militant group that controls Gaza. The blockade has squeezed the residents of Gaza — unemployment is up to nearly 60 percent — but has done little to uproot Hamas or deter the intermittent cross-border violence.
Israel limited the number of miles offshore Gaza fishers could fish this week, in retaliation for a rocket launch from Gaza that fell into the Mediterranean Sea.
“We feel very weak after two days of fear,” Wael Hanoush, a 39-year-old business leader in Beit Lahiya, in the northern Gaza Strip, told the Washington Post after the ceasefire. “Today this round ends and we do not know when it will start again.”
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who is also Israel’s defense minister, said he would keep additional forces along the border. “Over the last two days, we struck Hamas and Islamic Jihad with great force,” he said in a statement. “We hit over 350 targets. We struck at terrorist leaders and operatives and we destroyed terrorist buildings. The campaign is not over, and it demands patience and sagacity.”
Netanyahu managed to hold on to power in the recent elections and is now forming his government. But during the campaign, he touted his security credentials, as Vox’s Alexia Underwood noted, including his “forceful response to rocket attacks from Gaza.”
He seems prepared to continue that hardline approach, though it has done little to end the intermittent violence in and around Gaza, which could spiral into a more prolonged conflict.