Gaza-Israel Tensions Escalate as Hundreds of Rockets Fly
File Image: Smoke trails rise from rockets fired by Palestinian militants from the northern Gaza strip towards Israe (Photographer: Ahikam Seri/Bloomberg News) 

Gaza-Israel Tensions Escalate as Hundreds of Rockets Fly

(Bloomberg) -- Weeks of tense quiet along the Gaza Strip border exploded into violence as militants fired more than 400 rockets into Israel and Israel responded with dozens of air strikes throughout the Hamas-ruled enclave.

Ten Palestinians, including at least six militants, and an Israeli man were killed as the fighting that began Friday persisted into Sunday morning. A Palestinian baby and her pregnant mother were among the dead, with Gaza officials blaming Israel and an Israeli military spokesman saying they were killed by errant rocket fire from within Gaza.

Israel’s security cabinet will meet Sunday to discuss the flareup, which comes on the eve of Independence Day and less than two weeks before the country hosts thousands of tourists for the Eurovision song contest. The fighting erupted as Egypt was trying to mediate a longer-term truce between the sides.

Latest Fighting

Schools were closed on both sides of the border Sunday, and the streets of Gaza City were empty as shops and banks were shuttered on the eve of the Ramadan fasting month. Israel sent troop reinforcements and is mobilizing an armored brigade for contingencies, according to an Israeli military spokesman, and limits were placed on large gatherings. Militant groups threatened to send rockets deeper into Israel if the army targets inhabitated areas in the densely populated Palestinian territory.

Tensions began rising Friday afternoon at the border, where demonstrators have gathered weekly for often-violent confrontations with Israeli soldiers. A sniper backed by the Palestinian Islamic Jihad group injured two Israeli soldiers, the Israeli military said, and two protesters and two militants were killed by Israeli fire, according to officials in Gaza.

Rocket bombardments began on Saturday morning, with about 430 rockets fired in less than 24 hours. More than 100 were intercepted by missile defense batteries.

Turkish Protest

In return, Israeli aircraft hit roughly 200 targets in Gaza that it said included military compounds and training camps, naval vessels and weapons facilities. The military also destroyed a cross-border attack tunnel dug by Islamic Jihad and the houses of operatives in Gaza where military activity was being conducted, the army said.

One Gaza building that was hit housed Turkey’s state-run Anadolu news agency, and Turkey condemned Israel for the attack. The Israeli army didn’t directly comment on the reports about Anadolu, but said it hit buildings that housed Hamas offices including military intelligence and General Security.

Gaza militant groups, who had sought to trade longer-term quiet for an influx of aid to the impoverished territory, have accused Israel of not honoring commitments under a previous cease-fire. They’ve also pledged to be an obstacle to the Trump administration’s peace plan, which is expected to be presented next month.

Delegations from Gaza militant groups have been in Cairo since Thursday, and talks on a cease-fire continued Saturday night, Israel’s Kan broadcaster reported.

Israel closed border crossings to Gaza amid the flare-up, though it did allow through a shipment of fuel to prevent a humanitarian crisis in the strip.

©2019 Bloomberg L.P.

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