Palestinian Rocket Barrage From Gaza Draws Israeli Strikes

(Bloomberg) -- Gaza Strip rocket squads kept up their bombardment of southern Israel on Thursday, triggering waves of Israeli airstrikes against Hamas military installations as the sides alternated between talk of a cease-fire and warnings of all-out war.

Hamas said Thursday afternoon that the current round of fighting had ended -- though a rocket landed a few minutes later in the southern Israeli city of Beersheba, some 50 kilometers (30 miles) from Gaza, for the first time since the sides warred in 2014. Israel’s security cabinet was meeting Thursday afternoon amid warnings that a larger operation in Gaza was under consideration.

“Hamas is taking two million Palestinians hostage,” Israeli Housing Minister Yoav Gallant told reporters Thursday. “Whatever is needed to do in order to defend our citizens and soldiers will be done, no matter what the price will be in Gaza.”

The conflict heated up Wednesday night, a day after two Hamas commandos were killed by Israeli tank fire in disputed circumstances. Before the flareup, Hamas, which rules the 40-kilometer-long sliver of land, was examining a truce proposal sponsored by Egypt and the United Nations to curtail four months of border confrontations.

Heating Up

Hamas was embarrassed by talk that it was willing to agree to a “cheap” cease-fire, so it attacked vigorously to impress the Palestinian population, Gaza-based political analyst Akram Atallah said.

“Before Hamas reaches any truce agreement, it wants to increase its military credits to end the conflict with a big victory and a military draw with Israel,” Atallah said.

More than 180 rockets were fired from Gaza into Israel, the army said. About 30 were downed by Israel’s Iron Dome missile interception system and others fell in open areas, the army said.

Hamas officials said three Palestinians, including a baby, were killed in the Israeli strikes, whose targets included an underwater tunnel militants dug to infiltrate Israel and a factory for making tunneling parts, according to the military. Israeli army spokesman Lt. Col. Jonathan Conricus said seven Israelis were wounded by Hamas shelling.

Public Pressure

Ehud Yaari, a fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, told reporters Hamas is still intent on reaching a cease-fire accord. The group is considered a terrorist organization by Israel, the U.S. and European Union.

“We have here a game in which both parties are trying to reach an understanding but are being swept into a sort of escalation,” Yaari said. Tensions may continue to rise “partly because of public pressure in Israel, partly because you can’t tell people in the south they can go on like this.”

Military spokesman Conricus said Israel had ground troops ready to be deployed and could evacuate communities near the Gaza border if necessary.

“There’s some irony in the disparity between reports of negotiations, the attempts to deescalate the situation, and then on the other hand seeing this Hamas behavior and its decision to target Israeli civilians, knowing that when they fire at our civilians we must respond,” Conricus said. “It’s counterproductive from a Gaza perspective, I think.”

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