Late August 8th saw an escalation in Gaza, which continued until the early hours of August 9th. The escalation reached its high point when Hamas began launching of rockets into Israeli territory and Israel retaliated with strikes of its own. In total, Hamas shot more than 150 rockets, whereas Israel’s strikes continued until early morning and numbered upwards of 140.
Haaretz reports that the escalation began on August 8th while an IDF engineering corps force was operating near the strip. They thought it was a sniper attack and shot a tank shell at the position in response. Later that day, the IDF discovered that the shots that prompted the Israeli response were not aimed at the IDF forces, they were a part of a ceremony of the al-Qassam Brigades.
The tank shell fired by IDF forces killed two members of the Izzedine al-Qassam Brigades’ al-Nukhba elite unit and wounded six others, according to Haaretz citing Gaza reports. The incident was confirmed by the Gaza Health Ministry. PressTV, however, citing Palestine sources reported that the attack was a drone strike, not tank fire.
Palestinian media, quoted by Times of Israel, reported that IDF forces fired smoke grenades into the northern Gaza Strip, near the abandoned Kami Crossing.
Hamas vowed to respond. “In response to Israel aggression, the Palestinian resistance has launched a large number of rockets in recent hours at the enemy,” Hamas said. “There was a promise [to respond] and now it has been fulfilled.” Thus, Hamas claimed responsibility for launching 150 rockets at Israel, with 25 being intercepted by the Iron Dome missile defense system, as reported by Haaretz citing IDF sources. The southern Israeli town of Sderot was hit, leaving 11 Israelis wounded.
For the last 6 hours, thousands of Israeli civilians living in these cities have been running for shelter as more than 70 rockets were launched at them from the Gaza Strip pic.twitter.com/AyS8seiSsD
— IDF (@IDFSpokesperson) 8 August 2018
After the initial launches by Hamas, Israel responded by striking in the strip late August 8th. Gaza’s Health Ministry reported Thursday that three Palestinians were killed in the attacks, including a pregnant woman, 23, her 16-month-old toddler and a man, who was identified as 30-year-old Ali Alrandur. Six other people were wounded. Israel attacked over 140 targets in Gaza, including a factory for tunnel components, a coastal attack tunnel and Hamas targets, as reported by the IDF.
Haaretz quotes an unnamed IDF official who claims that Israel is approaching a battle in Gaza. “We don’t see the end of the escalation. We are closing in on operation in Gaza,” he commented.
The Israeli Military’s twitter account posted the following: “The way things continue to play out is significant. Hamas will understand in the coming hours, as in the past months, that this is not the direction it wants to choose.”
This escalation comes amid talks of a ceasefire. However, earlier on August 8th, IDF assessed that Hamas was still interested in a ceasefire agreement.
An unnamed senior Hamas member, cited by Anadolu News Agency, said that the movement was optimistic regarding its negotiations with Israel to agree on a ceasefire. He further claimed that the talks would be finalized by the end of August. The anonymous source commented that the deal would include a two-week trial. It would also permanently open the Rafah Border Crossing between Egypt and Gaza. An easing of the ban on the flow of goods through the Kerem Shalom Crossing with Israel is also expected.
The deal, as reported by Times of Israel, is to include a five-year ceasefire between Israel and Hamas, the return of two Israeli civilians and the remains of two soldiers killed in 2014 being held in the Strip. Hamas is in return demanding that Israel release Palestinian security prisoners.
A prerequisite for the deal, however, is the complete cessation of the launching of incendiary devices from Gaza towards Israeli territories.
Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh spoke at a meeting of Palestinian politicians in Gaza, according to the Hamas-linked Palestinian Information Center. “The Hamas leadership delegation that arrived in Gaza last Thursday will return to the Egyptian capital Cairo bearing the vision of the movement regarding all files that were discussed,” he commented.
On August 8th, U.N. Middle East envoy Nickolay Mladenov released an overnight statement. “I am deeply alarmed by the recent escalation of violence between Gaza and Israel, and particularly by today’s multiple rockets fired toward communities in southern Israel,” he commented. He also said that the UN and Egypt have engaged in an “unprecedented effort” to avoid serious conflict, however he warned that “the situation can rapidly deteriorate with devastating consequences for all people.”
Israeli Prime Minister cancelled a trip to Colombia to attend the Gaza truce talks and is supposed to convene his decision-making security cabinet on August 9th. A decision to recognize Palestine as a state was leaked on August 8th in Colombia, however the country’s new government commented that it would review President Juan Manuel Santos’ recognition of Palestine.