A Palestinian protesters readies his slingshot near a barrier of burning tires during clashes near Beit El, in Ramallah, West Bank. (Photographer: Geraldine Hope Ghelli/Bloomberg)

Heaviest Fighting Since 2014 Convulses Israel-Gaza Border

(Bloomberg) -- Israelis and Gazans woke to another day of rocket fire and airstrikes Tuesday, adding new urgency to efforts to quell the heaviest fighting between the sides since their 2014 war.

Months of contacts led by the United Nations and Egypt aimed at reaching a long-term truce seemed less promising as Gaza rocket squads unleashed the biggest bombardment of southern Israel in four years, and Israel pounded targets across the Hamas-run territory. Thirteen Gaza militants, an Israeli soldier, and a Palestinian in Israel have been killed since the violence was triggered Sunday night by a bungled Israeli intelligence operation inside Gaza.

Heaviest Fighting Since 2014 Convulses Israel-Gaza Border

The Israeli military said about 400 launches were identified from Gaza since Sunday night, including more than 100 intercepted by missile defenses. Israeli aircraft struck about 150 targets including military compounds, weapons manufacturing and storage sites, underground tunnels, Hamas naval vessels, rocket-launching sites and Hamas’s al-Aqsa television, the military said.

The clashes have dealt a blow to efforts by Egypt and the UN to forge a sustainable cease-fire and ease the dire humanitarian situation in the strip. The enclave has been under an Israeli and Egyptian blockade since Hamas seized power more than a decade ago. Sanctions applied by the West Bank-based Palestinian Authority, as well as Hamas’s choice to spend its money on weapons rather than infrastructure or social services, have deepened the area’s destitution.

Domestic Pressure

Israel’s security cabinet convened Tuesday morning, Army Radio reported, with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu under intense pressure from some politicians and residents of southern Israel to act more forcefully against Gaza militants. His decision to let a Qatari plane land last week with suitcases of cash designed to ease Gaza’s distress has been attacked by critics who say Israel is paying protection money to Hamas in hopes of achieving quiet.

Heaviest Fighting Since 2014 Convulses Israel-Gaza Border
Heaviest Fighting Since 2014 Convulses Israel-Gaza Border

On Sunday, hours after telling reporters in Paris that he’d prefer a long-term truce to war, Netanyahu cut short a European trip to deal with the new fighting.

UN special envoy Nickolay Mladenov said on Twitter that he has been working closely with Egypt to “ensure that Gaza steps back from the brink.”

“The escalation in the past 24hrs is EXTREMELY dangerous and reckless,” Mladenov wrote late Sunday. “Rockets must STOP, restraint must be shown by all! No effort must be spared to reverse the spiral of violence.”

A spokesman for Hamas’s military wing, Abu Obeida, warned on Twitter of harsher strikes to come if the Israeli attacks continue. Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas cut short a trip to Kuwait, and his office said he held “intensive regional and international contacts” to try to stop Israel’s strikes. Jason Greenblatt, U.S. President Donald Trump’s envoy to the Middle East, laid the blame squarely at Hamas’s door, saying its activities “continue to prove they don’t really care about the Palestinians of Gaza.”

“Israel is forced once again into military action to defend its citizens,” he tweeted. “We stand with Israel as it defends itself against these attacks.”