Israel’s military said militants from Gaza fired at least 180 rockets and mortars into Israel, prompting it to launch a wave of overnight airstrikes and dimming the prospects of a long-term truce.
Gaza’s Health Ministry said early Thursday that three people were killed in the Israeli strikes, including a 23-year-old pregnant woman and her 18-month-old child, as well as a 30-year-old member of Hamas’s armed military wing. At least seven Israelis were injured by the rocket fire, including three in the border town of Sderot, according to Israel’s military.
Israel and Gaza ruler Hamas reached a fragile calm late last month, with the number of daily flaming kites and balloons launched from Gaza into Israel decreasing significantly. The pause had mostly held, allowing for talks on a longer-term truce mediated by the United Nations and Egypt in Cairo to go on.
But a series of clashes beginning Tuesday threaten to disrupt those efforts.
Lt. Col. Jonathan Conricus, an Israeli military spokesman, said the flare-up affects Israel’s ability to reach a truce with Hamas.
“When we have rockets fired at our civilians and when we have civilian casualties and the disruption of civilian life in Sderot, in Ashkelon and the areas that surround the Gaza Strip…it will make it very difficult for Hamas to make any gains, any positive gains while they fire at Israeli civilians,” he said.
The Israeli military and militants in Gaza have launched several strikes against each other in recent months, raising concerns of another war. These clashes come as Gazans since March have held weekly demonstrations at the border fence with Israel calling for the right to return to their to their ancestors’ villages and towns in what is now Israel.
Those protests have often turned deadly. Some Palestinians have clashed with Israel’s military, with some throwing Molotov cocktails and flying flaming kites to cause fires as they came down in Israeli territory. More than 140 people have been killed at the fence by Israeli live fire, which it maintains is necessary to protect its border. Palestinian officials say the protesters were unarmed.
The humanitarian situation in Gaza has also deteriorated, with residents getting only several hours of electricity a day and facing severe water shortages.
On Thursday, Israel’s military said militants from Gaza fired rockets and mortars into Israel through the night and continued into the morning, triggering sirens in towns near the Gaza border. Most of the rockets landed in open areas but Israel’s Iron Dome system intercepted 30 launches, it added.
In response, Israel’s military said it targeted more than 150 Hamas military sites, including a weapons-manufacturing and storage facility, a complex used for Hamas’s navy, a military compound used for rocket-launching experiments, and five training camps.
On Wednesday before the escalation, Hamas officials said in a statement that it is open to dealing with international and Egyptian offers of reconciliation and improving humanitarian conditions, but said, “there will be no political price for that though.” A Hamas spokesman said the group is prepared for war if necessary.
Hamas officials were expected to return to Cairo on Thursday for further cease-fire discussions.
“If the current escalation however is not contained immediately, the situation can rapidly deteriorate with devastating consequences for all people,” Nickolay Mladenov, the U.N.’s special coordinator for the Middle East peace process, said in a statement Thursday.
He said the U.N. would continue to press efforts with Egypt to reach a long-term calm, improve the humanitarian situation and reconcile warring Palestinian factions.
Yoav Galant, a senior Israeli cabinet member and minister of construction and housing, said Israel is ready to go to war with Hamas if the rocket fire doesn’t stop, but is also still willing to continue negotiating an Egyptian-backed cease-fire.
“We are ready to cooperate with the Egyptians with any issue that is on the table, including what is necessary to achieve a cease-fire, but only after the firing will be stopped. We are ready for peace,” said Mr. Galant.
Hamas fired the first round of rockets Wednesday after Israel’s military attacked a Hamas target in northern Gaza in response to Palestinian gunmen earlier in the day opening fire on a civilian vehicle involved in construction work near the border. That followed a clash between Israel and Hamas on Tuesday, when Hamas’s military said two of its members were killed by Israeli soldiers during a training exercise in front of the Hamas leadership. The Israeli army on Tuesday said it targeted a Hamas outpost after it believed its soldiers came under fire.