Ceasefire holds after major Israeli airstrikes on Gaza border

Palestinian youths mourn at al-Shifa hospital morgue on July 14, 2018 after two teenagers were killed in one of a series of Israeli raids. Picture: ANAS BABA/AFP/Getty Images
Palestinian youths mourn at al-Shifa hospital morgue on July 14, 2018 after two teenagers were killed in one of a series of Israeli raids. Picture: ANAS BABA/AFP/Getty Images
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The Israeli military lifted its restrictions along the Gaza border yesterday, indicating it had accepted an Egypt-mediated ceasefire that ended a 24-hour round of fighting with Hamas militants that had threatened to devolve into all-out war.

The military had shut down a popular beach and placed limitations on large gatherings as residents kept mostly close to home on Saturday amid dozens of rockets that were fired from Gaza.

But after several hours of calm it said residents could resume their daily routines.

On Saturday, the military carried out its largest wave of airstrikes in Gaza since the 2014 war, hitting several Hamas military compounds and flattening a number of its training camps. Two Palestinian teenagers were killed in an airstrike in Gaza City, while four Israelis were wounded from a rocket that landed on a residential home.

The military said several mortar shells were fired even after Hamas announced the ceasefire as sirens warning of incoming projectiles wailed in Israel overnight again. The military struck the mortar launcher yesterday morning but the calm held, with neither side appearing eager to resume hostilities.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Israel would not accept a cease-fire unless it included an end to all militant hostilities, including incendiary kites and balloons from Gaza that have devastated nearby Israeli farmlands and nature reserves.

“The Israeli military has delivered its most punishing blow against Hamas since the 2014 war. I hope they got the message. If not, they will get it later on,” he said at the weekly cabinet meeting.

After several balloons drifted into Israel yesterday, the military said it targeted the Hamas squad that had launched them from the northern Gaza Strip.

Hamas police also announced an explosion yesterday at a house in Gaza City that killed a father and son, aged 35 and 13. The explosion appeared to be an accidental blast related to militant stock piles of explosives. Hamas said it would investigate.

Israel said it unleashed Saturday’s barrage in response to weeks of violence along Gaza’s border - including a grenade attack on Friday that wounded an officer - as well as sustained Hamas rocket attacks and a campaign of incendiary devices floating over the border. Hamas responded with more than 200 projectiles toward Israel communities, evoking memories of the three wars the sides have waged over the past decade. Israel said its Iron Dome defence system shot down more than 20 projectiles. Israel also destroyed several Hamas attack tunnels, as well as factories involved in the production of the incendiary kites and balloons, and a Hamas battalion headquarters in northern Gaza. 
“We have no intention of tolerating rockets, kites, drones or anything,” said Israeli Defence Minister Avigdor Lieberman. “I hope that Hamas will draw conclusions and if not, they will have to pay a heavy price.”

Two teenagers were killed and several others were wounded when Israel struck an unfinished five-story building near a Hamas security compound and a public park in Gaza City, reducing the structure to rubble.

The military said Hamas was using it as a training facility and had dug a tunnel underneath as part of its underground network.

The rare strike in the heart of Gaza City blew out windows at a nearby mosque, an art gallery, government offices, and dozens of houses, leaving light fixtures and wiring dangling.

The Al-Azhar university said its classrooms and the dentistry college lab were also damaged. Speaking to thousands attending the two teenagers’ funeral, Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh vowed to continue Gaza protests and to take revenge for the teens.