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Rocket attacks break Gaza ceasefire

What happened: The Gaza ceasefire agreed early yesterday morning was violated on at least four different occasions by rocket fire throughout the day, drawing retaliatory IDF airstrikes against Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) positions overnight. The fragile truce is still in place, although schools in many southern Israeli towns have been cancelled again amid fears hostilities may resume.

  • The limited rocket salvos, totalling approximately 10 short-range rockets, are according to IDF assessments the work of PIJ cells unhappy with the ceasefire. Nevertheless, a spokesman for PIJ’s military wing, the Al Quds Brigade, said the group was committed to the ceasefire reached by the leadership although its fighters “still have their fingers on the trigger.”
  • The rocket fire is believed to have emanated from the northern Gaza Strip – the area formerly controlled by PIJ commander Baha Abu al-Atta, whose assassination on Tuesday sparked the two-day conflict. Demonstrations broke out last night in Jabaliya, a refugee camp in north Gaza, demanding a continuation of hostilities.

Context: The IDF only responded after midnight after the fourth rocket salvo, with limited airstrikes targeting a PIJ rocket manufacturing site and a brigade headquarters.

  • Both targets were located in the southern Gaza Strip, leading to speculation that Israel was trying to apply pressure on PIJ’s northern renegade cells via the group’s southern units. Two Palestinians were reported injured.
  • The IDF said it viewed “with great severity the violation of the ceasefire and the firing of rockets at Israel. It is at high alert and will continue to act, as necessary, against attempts to harm Israeli citizens.”
  • The escalation between Israel and PIJ lasted for 50 hours during which 450 rockets were fired into Israel. 34 Palestinians were reported killed as a result of Israeli airstrikes, including an estimated 25 militants (primarily from PIJ). Nevertheless, Hamas refrained from joining in the fighting. Israel has reopened all border crossings with Gaza and expanded the fishing zone.
  • Haaretz reported that the IDF provided further details about an airstrike which killed eight family members in Deir al-Balach. The IDF said they did not know there were people in the structure that was hit, and that the real target was PIJ infrastructure – and not, as was initially reported, the head of PIJ’s rocket unit in that region.

Looking ahead: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyau, along with other Israeli officials, have declared the short conflict a success. “The goals of the operation have now been fully achieved… Our enemies received the message,” Netanyahu said yesterday. It remains to be seen how Israel will respond if sporadic rocket fire and other violence continues from Gaza – especially if the Friday “March of Return” border protests ultimately go ahead as planned and become violent. Israel remains in a delicate political moment, although criticism of the caretaker Netanyahu government has been relegated to left-wing parties and Avigdor Liberman. Any further escalations from Gaza could call into question the overall “success” of the recent operation and, with that, the government’s decision making process.