Gaza cease-fire unraveling
JERUSALEM — A fragile cease-fire agreement between Israel and the Palestinian group Hamas looked shakier Wednesday with the resumption of rocket attacks into southern Israel and a retaliatory airstrike on the Gaza Strip by the Israeli Air Force.
Though no injuries were reported in any of the attacks Tuesday night and Wednesday morning, the violence ended one of the longest lulls along that border in recent memory.
Tuesday night’s Israeli airstrike was the first in Gaza since the truce that ended an eight-day offensive last November. That clash killed 168 Palestinians and six Israelis.
“We will not in any way allow a routine of rocket fire steadily dripping on our civilians and soldiers,” Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon said.
The Israeli strike, which officials said hit Palestinian militant positions in northern Gaza, followed the firing of two projectiles into Israel earlier in the day.
After the Israeli strike, militants fired two more rockets early Wednesday, hitting the Israeli town of Sderot, officials said.
It marked the fourth time since the November cease-fire agreement that militants have fired at Israel. The previous attack came last month during President Barack Obama’s visit to Israel and the West Bank, when one rocket hit a home and another landed in an empty kindergarten classroom.
The latest Palestinian attack appeared to have been triggered by the death of Hamas prisoner Maysara abu Hamdieh, 63, who died of throat cancer in an Israeli hospital. Palestinian officials accused Israel of failing to provide adequate medical treatment and release Hamdieh sooner when it became clear his condition was terminal.
Israeli officials said they believe the rocket fire was likely coming from smaller extremist groups in Gaza, but that they would hold Hamas — which controls Gaza — responsible.
Hamas officials accused Israel of trying to provoke another clash with Gaza to divert attention from Hamdieh’s death, which trigged violent protests around the West Bank Tuesday.
“We consider last night’s bombing a real threat to the truce reached following last November’s war,” said Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri, adding that Hamas would complain to Egyptian mediators, who are monitoring the cease-fire agreement.
United Nations officials called upon both sides to stop the violence and honor the cease-fire.
U.N. Special Coordinator Robert Serry warned the latest clashes risked “unraveling the gradual but tangible improvements achieved since (November) in the easing of the (border) closure and the security situation in Gaza and southern Israel.”
Israel has said that if rocket fire continues, other provisions of the cease-fire could be negatively impacted, such as the relaxing of a buffer zone along the border and expanded nautical rights for Gaza fisherman.
Palestinians say Israel has already violated those agreements several times since November.