Israel-Hamas cross-border fighting renews after lull

A ball of fire lights the sky above a building believed to house the offices of Hamas chief in Gaza, Ismail Haniya, during Israeli strikes on the Gaza City, on March 25, 2019. (AFP)

Israel kept up air strikes on Gaza into Tuesday and Palestinian militants launched new rockets despite the ceasefire claim.

Palestinian militants fired rockets from Gaza into Israel on Tuesday, drawing retaliatory air strikes and breaking a day-long lull in cross-border fighting between Israel and Hamas that could impact an Israeli election two weeks away.

The biggest Israeli-Palestinian escalation in months, which began on Monday with the longest-range Palestinian rocket attack to cause casualties in Israel in five years, had eased after Egyptian mediation.

But even if the crisis subsides, it could shadow the impending Israeli election on April 9 in which right-wing Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has campaigned on a tough security platform.

In the wake of Palestinian rocket attacks and Israeli air strikes, Israel said it reserved the right to strike again and kept its troops and tanks massed at the Gaza frontier.

The border was mostly quiet on Tuesday and the military lifted its security restrictions in the area. But after darkness fell, at least two rockets launched from Gaza triggered sirens on the Israeli side of the border, the military said.

There were no reports of casualties or damage.

In response, the Israeli military said its aircraft struck several targets, including a military compound and a weapons-manufacturing facility belonging to the Hamas militant group, which controls the Palestinian enclave of Gaza.

Al Arabiya’s correspondent reported that sirens could be heard in the coastal Israeli city of Ashkelon, 50 kilometers south of Tel Aviv, and 13 kilometers north of the border with the Gaza Strip.

The Israeli air force launched a raid on a site of the Qassam Brigades, the military wing of Hamas, in Khan Younis in southern Gaza Strip, according to the correspondent.

Israel had announced on Tuesday night that a rocket had landed in open land at the Eshkol settlement complex on the Gaza Strip border. Sirens sounded in the settlement compound because of the rocket, which the Israeli army said was fired from Gaza. 

Ready to order further action, warns Netanyahu 

Prime Minister Netanyahu warned on Tuesday that he was ready to order further action in the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip after airstrikes in response to rocket fire.

“I can tell you we are prepared to do a lot more. We will do what is necessary to defend our people and to defend our state,” Netanyahu told the US pro-Israel lobby AIPAC by video link from the Jewish state’s defense headquarters.

Netanyahu cut short his visit to Washington to handle the response after a rare rocket strike landed near Tel Aviv, injuring seven Israelis, just two weeks ahead of elections.

A picture taken on March 26, 2019, shows the destroyed office of Hamas leader in Gaza City, Ismail Haniya, that was targeted the night before by an Israeli air raid. (AFP)

A picture taken on March 26, 2019, shows the destroyed office of Hamas leader in Gaza City, Ismail Haniya, that was targeted the night before by an Israeli air raid. (AFP)

Israel hit back with air strikes including on the office of Hamas leader Ismail Haniya, with an Egyptian-brokered ceasefire failing to take hold.

Before returning home, Netanyahu enjoyed a key pre-election boost when he met Monday with President Donald Trump who proclaimed that the United States considered the Golan Heights -- captured by Israel from Syria during the Six-Day War in 1967 -- to belong to the Jewish state.

ALSO READ: Saudi Arabia denounces US recognition of Golan Heights as Israeli territory

Pointing to Jewish historical roots in the Golan, Netanyahu told AIPAC: “Israel holds the high ground and we shall never, ever give it up.” 

UN: Gaza violence could turn catastrophic  

Meanwhile, the United Nations envoy for the Middle East warned on Tuesday of catastrophic consequences from escalating violence in Gaza as Israel and the Palestinian group Hamas continued to exchange fire despite a ceasefire deal.

Nickolay Mladenov told the Security Council that a “fragile calm” had returned to the region but that the situation remained “extremely tense” following reports that Hamas had agreed to a truce.

“I am concerned that we may once again be facing another very dangerous escalation of violence in Gaza with potentially catastrophic consequences,” Mladenov told a council meeting on the Middle East.

“The last two days have shown how precipitously close we came to the brink of war once again.”

The United Nations is working with Egypt to ensure the truce takes hold to avoid the outbreak of a fourth war in the Palestinian enclave.

Mladenov urged the council to condemn the “continued indiscriminate firing of rockets by Hamas towards Israel” and also to call on all sides to show restraint.

“A new conflict will be devastating for the Palestinian people. It will have consequences for Israelis, who live in the vicinity of the Gaza perimeter, and it is likely to have regional repercussions,” Mladenov warned.

The envoy also reported that Israel’s settlement expansion in the West Bank and East Jerusalem had continued despite a 2016 resolution demanding an end to the building of the Jewish outposts.

More than 3,000 units have been approved or tendered in the occupied West Bank -- the largest batch of new settlements since May 2018, said Mladenov.

(With Reuters, AFP)

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Last Update: Wednesday, 20 May 2020 KSA 09:53 - GMT 06:53
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