Fighting between Israel and Gaza may be winding down after a furious few hours that threatened to plunge the region into further chaos.
On Thursday, two long-range rockets fired from Gaza streaked toward Tel Aviv, one of Israel’s largest cities. The Israeli military said that they were likely accidental launches during maintenance work.
But regardless of the intention behind the attack, Israel still responded forcefully overnight. The Israeli military says it hit 100 targets in Gaza, including an underground rocket manufacturing site and drone development center.
Those targets belonged to Hamas — a Palestinian Islamist political organization and militant group that has waged war on Israel since the group’s 1987 founding and ruled Gaza since 2007.
Despite saying that the rockets were likely launched accidentally, Israel clearly still held Hamas responsible for the attacks — but the group has denied any involvement. In fact, it put out a statement saying the rocket fire went “against the national consensus” and vowed to condemn the perpetrators.
Health officials in Gaza say four people were injured during the Israeli airstrikes, including a husband and wife. And a weekly Palestinian protest at the Israel-Gaza border was canceled on Friday, perhaps as an attempt to decrease rising tensions.
We hit 100 Hamas military targets in Gaza in response to the rockets they fired at Israeli civilians. Among them:— Israel Defense Forces (@IDF) March 15, 2019
• Underground rocket manufacturing site
• HQ responsible for orchestrating Hamas terrorism in Judea & Samaria
• Hamas center of unmanned aerial aircraft#StopHamas pic.twitter.com/Iy3DwpNpTU
Egypt, which typically plays a mediation role during fighting between Israel and Gaza, has seemingly brokered a ceasefire. According to an unnamed Hamas official, Egypt’s efforts “have apparently paid off.”
It seems the worst-case scenario has been avoided — for now
Many in the international community feared that because of the apparent attack on Tel Aviv, the first since 2014, Israel would respond with tremendous force. Plus, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu — who faces a tough reelection battle in April — has incentive to strike back hard.
That could have ignited a broader fight in an area still teetering on the edge. Last November, for example, Israel and Hamas engaged in days of warring that saw fighters and civilians on both sides die.
Some Israeli officials seemingly want an escalation. “It’s time to defeat Hamas. It’s time to act unilaterally and demilitarize Hamas in order to defend Israeli citizens,” Israel’s Education Minister Naftali Bennett said.
Yet while Israel did hit 100 targets, it’s possible the country held back, due to indications that the Gaza rockets headed toward Tel Aviv were shot by accident.
What’s unclear, though, is if there’s more to come.
The Israeli military says Hamas fired at least four short-range rockets after the Tel Aviv attack aimed at Israeli’s south, which Israeli missile defenses seemed to intercept. If more rockets like those come over the Israel-Gaza border during the new ceasefire, causing it to collapse, then fighting may break out in earnest.