An Israeli army spokesperson has announced Israeli communities adjacent to the Gaza border could return to a normal “civilian routine” as calm seems to be restored after a deadly exchange with Gaza militants on Friday.
“At the end of an assessment by the southern command this morning it was decided to maintain a full civilian routine in the communities close to the Gaza strip,” the statement read, adding “there are no special restrictions on the home front.”
Israel and Hamas have agreed to restore calm in the Gaza Strip, a spokesman for Hamas said on Saturday, after an escalation late Friday evening.
“With Egyptian and United Nations efforts it has been agreed to return to the era of calm between [Israel] and Palestinian factions,” Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum told Reuters.
Despite the lull in the fighting, on Saturday morning the Israeli army targeted a Hamas position with tank fire after suspects crossed into Israel from Gaza. The suspects then headed back to the strip and the Israeli army did not report on any casualties in its statement.
During Friday’s clashes, an Israeli soldier was killed by Palestinian gunmen along the Gaza border. The soldier’s family has been informed of his death, but his identity and the exact circumstances of the incident are yet to be disclosed by the army.
The slain soldier is the first to be killed on the Gaza front in active duty since the 2014 war between Israel and Hamas, an Israeli army spokesman said. He was wearing a bulletproof vest when he came under sniper fire but he was declared dead shortly after he was transferred to Soroka Medical Center in the southern city of Be’er Sheva.
Four Palestinians were also killed in the exchange. Hamas’ armed wing, Izzedine al-Qassam Brigades, confirmed that three were members of the organization.
09.00 a.m.: Israeli army announces return to ‘civilian routine’
The Israeli army announces that “At the end of an assessment by the southern command this morning it was decided to maintain a full civilian routine in the communities close to the Gaza strip.” (Yaniv Kubovich)
00.50 a.m.: Israeli army says some 60 Hamas targets were destroyed
The Israeli army said its tanks had hit 68 Hamas targets and had “eliminated about 60 buildings and infrastructures and revoked significant military and command and control capabilities.”
23:15 p.m.: Israeli army completes strike on 25 Hamas terror targets
The Israeli army said it completed the strike of 25 Hamas targets located in Hamas’ Khan Yunis army command in the southern Gaza Strip.
The assault destroyed the command’s control and command abilities, ruined its offices and damaged aerial maneuvering and defense abilities.
The attack also destroyed a storage facility for unmanned aerial vehicles, observation posts and a factory manufacturing underground infrastructures. The military said that the attacks will continue.
10:11 p.m.: Army continues extensive attacks, says it struck 15 targets
The Israeli military said the attack on Hamas targets was still ongoing. 15 Hamas targets were struck in the northern Gaza Strip, the army said in a statement. Among them was a Hamas army command that housed ammunition storage facilities, training sites, observation posts, a situation room, command and control rooms and other infrastructures.
9:55 p.m.: Netanyahu holds additional security assessment at army headquarters
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is currently holding an additional security assessment discussion with Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman, army chief Gadi Eisenkot, Shin Bet head Nadav Argaman and other military officials at the army headquarters in Tel Aviv. (Noa Landau)
9:31 p.m.: Defense Minister Lieberman tells UN Hamas is deteriorating situation on purpose
Defense Minister Avgidor Lieberman spoke to the United Nations’ Middle East ambassador, Nickolay Mladenov, about the deterioration on the Gaza border.
Lieberman told Mladenov in their phone call that Israel “will respond harshly and from now on all the responsibility lies with the Hamas leadership. If Hamas continues launching rockets, the result will be a lot worse than they think. The responsibility for all the wreckage and lost lives will be on Hamas.”
9:15 pm: Knesset Member Ayman Odeh says government has failed to properly assess the siutation
Arab leader Ayman Odeh, head of the Joint List, spoke out about the ongoing escalation, calling on the government to find solutions.
“The residents of Gaza have been crying for months under the Israeli siege, and the government has failed to understand that more attacks and fighting will only broaden the bloodbath. This is the time to talk about Israel’s responsibility for Gaza and for justice. Now is the time to talk about solutions rather than revolutions,” he said.
8:58 p.m.: Three rockets launched at Israel; two intercepted by Iron Dome
The Israeli army said that the third rocket fell in an open area near Kibbutz Nahal Oz. No injuries or damage were reported.
8:27 p.m.: Rocket alerts sound in Gaza-border communities
8:17 p.m.: UN Middle East envoy calls for de-escalation
The UN’s Middle East envoy, Nikolay Mladenov, took to Twitter to pen an especially sharply-worded message following the escalation, writing: “Everyone in #Gaza needs to step back from the brink. Not next week. Not tomorrow. Right NOW! Those who want to provoke #Palestinians and #Israelis into another war must not succeed.”
8:04 p.m.: IDF announces extensive attack on terror targets
The Israeli army stated that “at this hour, IDF jet planes started an extensive attack on terror targets related to the Hamas terror organization throughout the Gaza Strip.”
The military said the attack came in response to “a grave shooting incident against our forces.”
“Hamas chose to deteriorate the security situation and will bear the responsibility for its actions. The army is in heightened preparedness,” the statement read.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and IDF Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Gadi Eisenkot convened top defense officials and political leaders in Tel Aviv on Friday evening to assess the situation. The IDF views the attack as a very serious incident, but does not currently know who carried it out.
According to the Israeli military, the army used tank and artillery fire to strike several Hamas targets along the Strip in response to Palestinian snipers shooting at troops in southern Gaza. The IDF Spokesperson’s Unit said the IDF attacked eight Hamas targets.
Israelis living near the Gaza border have been ordered to remain close to shelters over concerns that Palestinians may fire rockets toward Gaza-border communities.
Hamas security forces have started evacuating army commands and posts over fears that the Israeli army might attack them in the coming hours.
Two of the Palestinians killed died in an Israeli attack on a Hamas post east of Khan Yunis. The third man was killed by Israeli fire close to Rafah.
At the same time, thousands of Palestinians marched toward the Israeli border with Gaza as part of weekly demonstrations dubbed “the march of return.”
So far, 140 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli fire during such protests, which began last March and reached their height when the U.S. Embassy move from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.
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Last weekend, two Palestinians were killed at a demonstration near the border. One of them was a 15-year-old boy; 220 people were injured. An Israeli officer was injured moderately after a stun grenade was hurled at him by Palestinian demonstrators in the northern Gaza Strip. In response to the attack on the officer, the army opened fire on the protesters.
Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman warned earlier Friday that Hamas is forcing Israel into a situation that may demand a “broad, painful military operation” that will be larger than the last one in 2014.
“We are trying to be measured and responsible, but the leaders of Hamas are leading us into a situation in which there is no choice, a situation in which we will have to embark on a broad and painful military operation, not only for appearances,” Lieberman said on a visit to the southern city of Sderot.
He added that such an operation would be “more painful than Operation Protective Edge” for Hamas. “Unfortunately, residents of Gaza will be among those who will have to pay the price,” he said.
The defense minister suggested the possibility of easing economic restrictions on Gaza in exchange for “a total cessation of terror and provocations at the [border] fence.” Hamas rejected Friday morning a similar idea raised in an op-ed by aides to U.S. President Donald Trump.
Reuters contributed to this story.