Gaza militants continued to lob rockets at Israel early Thursday, despite rumors of a cease fire, as dozens of rockets were fired from the territory into Israel on Wednesday in the largest border skirmish since 2012.
On Thursday morning, there were reports that Egypt had negotiated a truce between Islamic Jihad fighters and Israel, but the Israeli Defense Forces denied that report, saying rockets continued to fall in the afternoon.
No injuries were reported this morning, but residents in the southern Israeli towns of Ashdod and Ashkelon took cover as air-raid sirens went off. Al Quds, an arm of the Palestinian militant group Islamic Jihad, took responsibility for the attacks and said that it continued firing on Israel this morning in retaliation for an air strike that killed three militants this week, and for breaking a cease-fire which has been largely observed by both sides for the last two years, but is at risk thanks to the latest spate of shooting. Al-Quds spokesman Abu Ahmad said "This operation, dubbed 'Breaking the Silence,' comes as a response to the ongoing and continued Zionist Israeli aggression against the Palestinian people in the West Bank and Gaza."
This morning's rockets traveled deeper into Israel than yesterday's, raising concern among Israeli officials, especially as al-Quds seems to have revealed a powerful rocket-launcher. Military spokesman Lt. Col. Peter Lerner said that "since yesterday, there has seen a substantial deterioration in the safety of the residents in southern Israel. We have responded and will continue to do so in order to eliminate threats as they develop." And Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said, "our policy in the south is clear. We harm those who try to harm us and respond fiercely to any attack. The terrorist groups in Gaza need to understand that they are dealing with a very determined government and a very strong army."
Per usual, the Israeli Defense Force (IDF) updated its social media pages throughout yesterday and into this morning:
In response to #Gaza rocket fire, our aircraft targeted 7 terrorist targets in southern Gaza— IDF (@IDFSpokesperson) March 13, 2014
A blog posted to the IDF site yesterday noted that the military hit 29 terrorist sites in Gaza. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu also issued a harsh statement via Twitter:
If there won't be quiet in the south, there will be noise in Gaza, and this is an understatement.— Benjamin Netanyahu (@netanyahu) March 12, 2014
A Palestinian Authority spokesman said that President Mahmoud Abbas, for his part, demanded that Israel stop "military escalation on the besieged Gaza Strip, considering that this escalation will put the isolated residents in the danger of the war and destruction. The Gaza Strip is constantly being targeted by Israeli airstrikes that targeted many areas."
Still, the Associated Press reports that there may be some hope of a ceasefire:
Despite the exchanges, there were signs the two days of fighting could subside. Islamic Jihad, the Palestinian group responsible for the rocket fire, said it had agreed through Egyptian mediation to halt its attacks if Israel agreed to a truce as well. "After the Egyptian brothers initiated contacts with us in the past few hours, we agreed to restore the calm," said Khaled al-Batch, the group's leader in Gaza. "As long as the occupation (Israel) honors the calm, we will honor the calm and instructions are being given right now to al-Quds brigades, our military wing, about this understanding."
We hope that this is the case.