A senior defense official said Wednesday that Israel was prepared to refrain from further attacks on Gaza if terror factions in the strip also kept the peace, indicating that an informal ceasefire has taken hold after a restive day.
The Israeli Air Force bombed dozens of Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad facilities across the Gaza Strip in two rounds of air raids, on Tuesday afternoon and predawn Wednesday, amid the largest exchange between Israel and Gazan terrorist groups since the 2014 war.
Over the course of 22 hours, from 7 a.m. Tuesday to 5:17 a.m. Wednesday, sirens were triggered at least 166 times in southern Israel, according to the IDF Home Front Command, by mortar fire, rockets or, in some cases, heavy machine gun fire.
A reported Egyptian-brokered informal ceasefire between Palestinian terror groups and Israel appeared to be held on Wednesday morning, with both sides blaming the other for the flare-up.
Israel denied that it had reached an agreement, but a senior defense official, speaking on condition of anonymity, indicated to reporters that an understanding had been reached under which Israel would not conduct additional strikes in Gaza so long as no more rockets or mortar shells were fired.
“If the launches are renewed, the attacks against Hamas will be intensified,” the official said.
As of Wednesday morning, the military had yet to release a final tally for the number of projectiles fired at southern Israel from Gaza, but it is likely to approach 200.
From the end of the 2014 Gaza war until Tuesday, approximately 80 projectiles were fired from Gaza into Israel, according to Israeli figures.
Dozens of the incoming mortar shells and rockets were intercepted by the Iron Dome missile defense system. Others landed in open fields in southern Israel.
A small number landed inside Israeli communities, including a mortar round that directly hit a home in the Eshkol region and a shell that exploded in the yard of a kindergarten shortly before children arrived.
Parts of a rocket also struck a sports center in the town of Netivot, causing damage to the facility but no injuries.
A home in the southern Eshkol region damaged by mortar fire from the Gaza Strip early on May 30, 2018 (courtesy Eshkol Regional Council)
In total, four people, three of them soldiers, were injured by the mortar attacks. One of the soldiers was moderately hurt, requiring surgery, while the other casualties were lightly wounded and quickly released from the hospital after treatment.
In response to the repeated mortar and rocket attacks, the army carried out two waves of aerial bombardments in Gaza, hitting approximately 65 targets in total, including a Hamas attack tunnel, drone facilities, and rocket manufacturing plants, according to the Israel Defense Forces.
On Wednesday morning, the military released footage from some of its Gaza strikes (above).
Notably missing from the army’s list of targets were the terror cells firing the scores of mortars and rockets at southern Israel.
The Hamas-run Gaza health ministry did not report any casualties in the Strip during the two rounds of air raids.
The military appeared to be trying to send a clear message to Hamas and Islamic Jihad that it would not tolerate rocket and mortar fire, while also limiting the force of its retaliatory raids in order to keep the situation from escalating into all-out war.
The first wave of IDF bombardments, conducted early Tuesday afternoon, struck approximately 40 targets, including a “unique” attack tunnel dug by Hamas that extended approximately two kilometers (1.6 miles) from the Gaza Strip through Egypt and into Israel.
The army said it appeared to be a dual-use tunnel, for both smugglings from Egypt and for carrying out cross-border raids in Israel.
The Times of Israel