JFNA’s Israel office has prepared this summary of the significant escalation in the tensions between Israel and Hamas witnessed yesterday and today. In one of the most intense exchanges of fire since the 2014 conflict, a massive barrage of rockets was launched yesterday and today from Gaza into Israeli towns, and in response, the IDF destroyed about 150 Hamas military targets. There is considerable tension throughout Israel and the security establishment is on high alert. Here are some of the specifics:
A major escalation began yesterday at Israel’s southern border. More than 180 rockets were fired from Gaza at civilian targets in Israel’s southern border communities. Dozens of rocket sirens were sounded throughout the night, sending families running to shelters. 30 rockets were intercepted by the Iron Dome defense system and most remaining rockets landed in open areas. 11 Israelis were reported wounded.
In response to the rocket attacks, the IDF struck over 150 military targets in Gaza, including a military compound belonging to the eastern Rafah Battalion, an offensive terror tunnel shaft located west of Jabalia and two Hamas combat tunnels located adjacent to the beach in the central Gaza Strip. Gazan news sources have reported three dead including a mother and toddler, as a result of Israeli strikes. Reinforcements are being sent to the south and the Israeli army began deploying more Iron Dome missile defense batteries to prepare for a scenario in which Gaza rockets reach deeper into Israeli territory. The Israeli Security Cabinet has held a series of special meetings to track developments and discuss appropriate responses. Officials have said the military is prepared, if necessary, to evacuate civilians located up to four kilometers from the border.
Prospects for a Cease Fire
Palestinian factions in Gaza publicly declared today they consider this round of violence to be over; however, a sense of calm has not yet been restored and many believe more rockets will be launched. Many in Israel’s security establishment believe Hamas is interested in securing not only an immediate cessation of violence but a long-term cease-fire agreement with Israel. Over the past few weeks, Egypt and the UN have been feverishly attempting to broker such a long-term agreement. Earlier this week, Hamas officials publicly stated that they are keeping an “open mind” about the Egyptian cease fire proposal and Hamas officials publicly claimed that a longer term truce would be signed with Israel by the end of the month. Israel has not confirmed any negotiations with Hamas and has warned that any cease fire agreement must include cessation not only of rockets but also of incendiary balloons and kite arson.
Kite Arson and Incendiary Balloons
This barrage of rockets comes after months of violent mass riots on the Gaza border and the launching of flaming kites and incendiary balloons by Palestinians in Gaza. Over the past four months, more than 7,000 acres of fields and forests in southern Israel have been burned by flaming kites and balloons resulting in millions of dollars in damages. More than 40 fires broke out over last weekend alone in what was the highest number of arson attacks since Hamas declared an unofficial ceasefire with Israel last month. Israel has struggled to counter the arson assault, but has increasingly carried out airstrikes on Palestinians preparing to launch incendiaries. In response to last weekend’s fires, the IDF struck two separate cells of Palestinians flying the devices over the border.
The kite arson began alongside the weekly violent protests along the Israel-Gaza border. These so-called “March of Return” protests have brought the most serious escalation until now between Israel and Hamas since the 2014 Israel-Gaza conflict. Border clashes have seen Israeli security forces facing gunfire, grenades, Molotov cocktails, and attempts to damage or penetrate the border fence. Last month, an Israeli soldier was killed by a sniper. The Israeli government maintains these protests are organized by Gaza’s Hamas rulers and holds Hamas fully accountable. The Hamas-run health ministry in Gaza has reported 159 Palestinians have been killed since the start of these riots on March 30th. Hamas has acknowledged that dozens of those killed were its members.
Our Israel office has been working together with local Federation representatives and our partner agencies to identify pressing needs in communities on the southern border for which remaining fire emergency funds have now been allocated. Monies were made available for trauma relief services for residents and first-responders, a Jewish Agency camp for at-risk children and to bring American firefighters to volunteer alongside Israeli firefighters on the Gaza border.
Other Federation-funded programs, established with emergency dollars in the aftermath of Operation Protective Edge, are in place which support the resiliency of civilians living in towns near Gaza, providing real-time comfort and assistance during this tense period.
JFNA’s Israel office has emergency protocols in place and stands ready to respond on behalf of the Federation system in the event of a further escalation.