Fighting raged on Thursday in Gaza as Israel said it needed more time to eradicate cross-border tunnels used by Hamas for attacks, while the Palestinian Islamists demanded the blockade on the Gaza Strip be lifted.
Israel has boosted its military presence along the border with Gaza amid top politicians’ calls for a full-scale military campaign like the conflict of 2014, to put an end to the violence and rocket attacks that it links to Hamas.
The IDF has stationed around 60 tanks and armored personnel carriers at a deployment area near the Palestinian border, according to Reuters, in what may be the largest military maneuver from Israel since 2014’s Operation Protective Edge.
In the latest exchange this week, a rocket from Gaza hit the southern Israeli city of Be’er Sheva, damaging a house, while another fell into the sea. In a series of retaliatory airstrikes Tuesday night, the IDF killed one Palestinian and injured several more, targeting eight “terrorist locations.”
Attempting to justify its rapid military escalation, Israeli officials claimed the rocket that landed in the sea came “dangerously close” to Tel Aviv. Still, Hamas took no responsibility for the rocket strike and promised an investigation.
In addition to the military response, Israel closed two border checkpoints and instituted a three-mile limit for Palestinian fishing boats. Palestinian officials have already described Gaza as being at a “breaking point,” citing “the Israeli blockade that strangled life and business in Gaza.”
Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu promised “very strong action” in the event of future rocket attacks, convening his security cabinet as soon as the projectiles hit the ground. Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman prioritized showing strength over keeping the peace, reiterating his insistence on a “strong blow” against Hamas “even at a price of moving to a wide-scale confrontation.”
The Israeli media seems to be softening the population up for another war, with headlines insisting a full-scale conflict is unavoidable. An Egyptian delegation is reportedly attempting to de-escalate the situation, talking to both sides in the hope of avoiding further carnage.
While Israeli officials lament the “violence” of Hamas as the rationale for their economic blockade and proposed military incursion, most of the violence in recent months has come from Israel. The country has come under heavy international scrutiny for killing and maiming unarmed Palestinians taking part in the Great March of Return protest, including medics and journalists clearly marked as such. Over 204 Palestinians have been killed and more than 22,000 injured since the protests began in March. Israel has also stepped up its demolition of Palestinian villages to make way for the expansion of illegal settlements.
The death toll in Gaza reached 718 on Thursday as Israeli tank fire and other pre-dawn assaults killed 26 people in the Hamas-dominated enclave, including six members of the same family, Palestinian health officials said.
Israel has lost 32 soldiers to clashes inside Gaza and with Hamas raiders who have slipped across the fortified frontier in tunnels. Rocket and mortar shelling by Hamas and other Palestinian guerrillas has killed three civilians in Israel.
Such shelling surged last month as Israel cracked down on Hamas in the occupied West Bank, triggering the July 8 air and sea barrage on Gaza that escalated into an invasion a week ago.
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