Israel says it’s in ‘lengthy battle’ with Gaza despite truce
LONDON – Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu visited a southern Israeli town bordering Gaza on Monday that was hit with rockets over the weekend from the strip and told community leaders there that Israel is engaged in a “lengthy battle.”
Netanyahu’s visit to Sderot comes a day after an informal cease-fire took hold to end 24 hours of intense fighting with Gaza’s Hamas militants.
Israel pounded Hamas targets in its most massive bombardment since the 2014 war, while militants fired dozens of rockets toward Israel that halted daily life in the area. Two Palestinian teenagers were killed in an Israeli airstrike in Gaza City, while four Israelis were wounded from a rocket that landed on a residential home in Sderot.
Netanyahu pledged that Israel would put an end to the rocket fire and a Gaza militant campaign of sending incendiary kites and balloons across the border.
Hamas will face a “wall of steel” if it keeps up its aggression against Israel, Netanyahu warned, adding however that the threat won’t disappear overnight.
“It doesn’t end in one strike,” Netanyahu said. “We know we are engaged in a lengthy battle.”
On Saturday, the Israeli military struck several Hamas military compounds and flattened a number of its training camps. Hamas retaliated with more than 200 rockets and mortars.
After Hamas accepted an Egypt-mediated cease-fire late Saturday, the situation calmed down but flaming kites and balloons continued to waft over into Israel, with the military signaling a new policy of striking back immediately.
Netanyahu told local leaders he has instructed the military to halt it completely.
“There is no such thing as a cease-fire that does not include the flaming kites and balloons,” he said. “If this is not understood through my words, it will be understood through the military’s actions.”
On Sunday evening, the military announced that following a “situation assessment” it reinforced its Iron Dome batteries in central Israel and in the country’s south and called up a small number of reserve army soldiers. The Iron Dome shot down more than 20 projectiles over the weekend.
With Israel focused on efforts to prevent Iran from establishing a permanent military foothold in neighboring Syria, it has been wary of escalating violence in Gaza. But the extensive offensive appeared aimed at signaling to Hamas that it was unafraid to engage if necessary.
The flare-up came after months of near-weekly border demonstrations organized by Hamas to protest the Israeli-Egyptian blockade of Gaza. Over 130 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli fire since the protests began on March 30.
The ceasefire was the second between Israel and Hamas to be brokered by Egypt this year.
Hamas said border demonstrations, at which Palestinians have been demanding the right to return to land lost when Israel was created in 1948, would continue and that the onus was on Israel to show restraint.
“Let the enemy end its aggression first and then the resistance will stop,” Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh said in a eulogy for Amir al-Namara, 15, and Loay Kheil, 16, who were killed when a half-constructed high rise they were playing in was hit by an Israeli missile.
The Israeli military said the building had been used by Hamas for urban warfare training.
Twelve others, passers-by and visitors of a nearby public garden, were wounded in the attack, one of dozens of Israeli air strikes on the densely populated enclave on Saturday which damaged residential and office buildings, shattered car windows and caused panic among residents.
“He wasn’t carrying a rocket. He was just an innocent kid,” said Amir’s grandfather Waleed al-Namara at the boy’s wake. “We want the calm to last, and for them to agree on a solution that will benefit the Palestinian people.”
The surge in violence comes as Palestinian hopes for an independent state have dwindled and peace talks remain stalled. Gaza, home to 2 million people, most of whom depend on foreign aid, has been under Israeli economic sanctions for 12 years.
Separately, a Fatah faction militant and his son were killed in a blast in a building in Gaza on Sunday. Police said the man accidentally set off an old Israeli shell he was trying to dismantle.
The United Nations’ Middle East envoy Nickolay Mladenov was in Gaza and “working with all concerned parties to de-escalate the situation”, a UN official said.
“Everyone understands that unless the situation is defused, we will very quickly be back to another confrontation,” Mladenov told reporters at his office in Gaza.
Gaza, whose main power supplier is Israel, has suffered problems with its electricity for the past decade.
Power shortages in the territory of two million people have severely disrupted operations at sewage treatment facilities, leading to the discharge of wastewater into the sea.
UN figures showed 108 million litres of wastewater poured into the sea off Gaza every day in May. Pollution levels are four times higher than the international standard, according to the data.
(The Arab Weekly staff and news agencies)