Israel Deploys Air Defenses as Uneasy Calm Settles Over Gaza

(Bloomberg) -- Israel deployed an anti-missile defense system near Tel Aviv and vowed to take a firm stand against incendiary kites as a brittle calm held along the Gaza Strip border after a weekend of violence.

The Israeli army said Sunday it was reinforcing Iron Dome aerial-defense batteries in the center of the country and calling up some air-defense reservists. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Israel would not allow Palestinians to continue sending flaming kites into southern Israel, where they have razed thousands of acres, and the army targeted several squads releasing what it called “arson balloons,” without drawing a response from Gaza’s Hamas rulers.

Sunday’s calm followed a violent Saturday, when Palestinians fired more than 100 rockets and mortars into Israel and the air force pummeled Hamas targets throughout the strip. Two Palestinian teenagers were killed Saturday and three Israelis were wounded.

Hamas said early Sunday that regional and international mediators had crafted an agreement that led to a truce. Local media, quoting unidentified Hamas officials, said senior Egyptian intelligence officers and United Nations special envoy Nicolai Mladenov brokered the accord. The Islamic Jihad group also reported agreeing to a truce.

“I heard it being said that Israel has agreed to a cease-fire that would allow the continuation of terrorism by incendiary kites and balloons. This is incorrect,” Netanyahu said at Israel’s Cabinet meeting Sunday morning. “We are not prepared to accept any attacks against us and we will respond appropriately.”

Violent Weekend

Israeli military spokesman Lieutenant Jonathan Conricus said Saturday’s operation aimed to stop arson attacks, attempted border breaches, and assaults on soldiers from Gaza that have grown increasingly violent. Two underground tunnels that militants had dug to infiltrate Israel were destroyed, and other Hamas compounds including a training facility and a site used to prepare kites and balloons for airborne arson attacks also were hit, Conricus aid.

Volatility along the border has intensified since Gazans launched weekly protests against Israel in late March. Almost 140 Palestinians, some of them unarmed, have been killed in the confrontations.

While protest organizers have said the demonstrations are meant to be peaceful, Israel says Gaza militants use them as cover to attack. The latest technique involves kites and balloons outfitted with firebombs and explosives, which have razed thousands of acres of land in southern Israel. Militants have also tried repeatedly to break through the border fence and attacked soldiers.

The confrontations have coincided with Hamas’s increasingly desperate situation. Gaza has been under Israeli and Egyptian blockade since Hamas, considered a terrorist group by much of the West, wrested power in 2007. It hasn’t recovered from three devastating wars with Israel, and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas has deepened the hardship with economic sanctions on Gaza intended to batter Hamas.

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