Israel batters Gaza in biggest strikes since 2014 conflict
By: Al Jazeera
Source: Al Jazeera
Israel unleashed its biggest air strikes on the Gaza Strip since a 2014 war on Saturday, killing two Palestinians, while dozens of rockets targeted Israel, but Hamas said a ceasefire had been reached late in the day.
The Palestinian Islamic Jihad militant group said in a separate statement that a truce had been reached. The exchange of fire followed months of tension that has raised the prospect of a fourth war in the blockaded Gaza Strip since 2008.
The two Palestinians killed were aged 15 and 16, caught in an Israeli strike on a building they were near in the west of Gaza City, the enclave’s health ministry said. Twenty-five people were wounded across Gaza, the ministry said.
Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum said late Saturday the Islamist movement, which runs the Gaza Strip, had agreed to an “Egyptian offer to return to a ceasefire to stop this escalation.”
An Israeli military spokesman declined to comment, but said its actions would depend on what happens on the ground. A spokesman for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu did not respond to a request for comment.
The surge in violence followed mounting public criticism of Netanyahu over failure to counter a new Palestinian tactic: incendiary kites and balloons launched from Gaza that have burned crops and scrubland in southern Israel.
The Israeli military said about 100 rockets were launched from Gaza at southern Israel, where many residents have reinforced rooms in their homes but only seconds to reach them between the time sirens blare and missiles land.
Some of the projectiles were intercepted by Israel’s Iron Dome system, but police said three people had been wounded in the southern town of Sderot.
“After consultations with the defence minister, the chief of staff and Israel’s top defence officials, we decided on powerful action against Hamas terrorism,” Netanyahu said in a video statement.
“The Israeli armed forces delivered the strongest blow against Hamas since (the 2014 Gaza war) and we will increase the intensity of our attacks as necessary.”
Still, Intelligence Minister Israel Katz said the Israeli attacks should not be seen as the start of a military campaign against the Palestinian territory of 2 million, devastated by seven weeks of war with Israel four years ago.
“We are not in a (military) operation. The activity we are engaged in now sends a message that Israel will not tolerate rockets, explosive devices, mortar bombs or (incendiary) kites,” Katz said on Israel’s Channel 12 TV.
“The action we are taking draws a clear red line: that from now on, we will not allow this,” he said.