Escalation Looms as Israel and Gaza Resistance Factions Exchange Fire
An exchange of fire on Thursday between Israel and Hamas was the first serious cross-border incident since an escalation in fighting last month.
According to Palestinian sources in Gaza, on Thursday the Israeli army struck two locations in the Gaza Strip. Reports said that three shells were fired from the Gaza shore by Israeli naval forces and hit the vicinity of a local mosque, north of Gaza city. No causalities were reported.
Also on Thursday morning, Israeli warplanes attacked an open field in the southern Gaza Strip city of Rafah, with no causalities reported.
An Israeli army statement on twitter read that the air force attacked infrastructure for the ruling Islamist Hamas party in Gaza and the air raid was in response to rocket fire, launched earlier on Thursday down onto the southern Israeli town of Ashkol.
In response, Gaza-based Palestinian resistance factions launched on Thursday evening rockets into the nearby Israeli town of Sderot, hitting a house.
Israeli sources confirmed the rocket fire but said no harm was caused to civilians, yet minor damage was inflicted.
On Wednesday, the office of the Israeli army’s coordinator for civil affairs in the occupied Palestinian territories (COGAT), which includes the Gaza Strip, announced the closure of Gaza’s shores to Gaza fisherman.
COGAT cited continued Palestinian launching of incendiary balloons, as the reason for the closure. COGAT claims over the past two weeks, Palestinian balloons launched from Gaza into nearby Israel caused at least seven Israeli farmlands to blaze.
Recent Bloody Escalation
Palestinians have recently resumed launching fire balloons, after an alleged truce deal reached early last month did not bring any relief to Israels 12-year-long blockade of the territory, according to Palestinian sources.
Last month’s cross-border attacks between Israel and Gaza-based factions claimed the lives of more than 25 Palestinians, more than half of whom were women and children, and caused the death of four Israelis.
For over a year now, Egypt, the United Nations and Qatar have been engaged in mediations between Israel and Gaza-based factions to bring calm to the region.
With Israel’s consent, Qatar has so far provided the Gaza Strip with dozens of millions of U.S. dollars, aimed at relieving Gaza’s battered economy.
Gaza has gone through a wide range of financial restraints caused by the Israeli blockade and the reduction of funds to the Palestinian Authority allocated for Gaza and PA-employed staff.
Gaza-based resistance factions demand the lifting of the Israeli blockade, once and for all, in return for a long-lived truce, while Israel has sought the release of four Israelis reported missing in Gaza for five years now.
The ruling Hamas party blamed Israel for the current round of escalation, calling on mediators to pressure the Israeli government to commit to previous truce understandings, including allowing imports and exports to resume and the expansion of fishing zones for Gaza’s fishermen.
As the situation escalates in the region, Hamas said they are expecting the arrival of a high-ranking Egyptian security delegation to contain any further escalation.
In the meantime, Israel said it would assess the security situation for a response to the latest Palestinian rocket fire.
Gaza, home to 2 million Palestinians, has been subject to crippling Israeli border closures since 2007 when Hamas took over the region and ousted the Fatah party of the Western-backed Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas.
Since it has besieged the coastal region, Israel has carried out three major attacks in Hamas-ruled Gaza. Israel says the attacks were made to stop rocket fire from Gaza into nearby Israeli areas and undermine the capabilities of Gaza-based resistance factions.
The Israeli military assaults have so far caused the deaths of several thousand Palestinians, the majority of whom are civilians, and left Gaza’s infrastructure grossly undermined.
Back in 2005, Israel unilaterally disengaged from Gaza, removing settlements and keeping its soldiers at a distance. Two years later, Israel declared Gaza as a hostile entity.