JERUSALEM (AP) — The Israeli military lifted its restrictions along the Gaza border area on Sunday, indicating it had accepted an Egypt-mediated cease-fire to end an intense, 24-hour round of fighting with Hamas militants that had threatened to devolve into 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 summer camps would operate as usual and 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 Israeli military said several mortar shells were fired even after Hamas announced the cease-fire as sirens warning of incoming projectiles wailed in Israel overnight again. The military struck the mortar launcher early Sunday but calm held for several hours after and neither side appears eager to resume hostilities.
The Israeli military said it unleashed Saturday’s barrage in response to weeks of violence along the Gaza border — including a grenade attack Friday that wounded an officer — as well as sustained Hamas rocket attacks and a lengthy campaign of launching incendiary kites and balloons that have devastated Israeli farmlands and nature reserves along the coastal strip.
Hamas responded with more than 200 projectiles toward Israel communities, evoking the memories of the three wars the sides have waged over the past decade. Israel said its Iron Dome defense 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.
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 says the abandoned building once served as the Palestinian National Library but in recent years was used by Hamas as a training facility for urban warfare and it had dug an offensive tunnel under the building that was part of its underground network.
That strike triggered a launch toward the long-suffering border town of Sderot, where a rocket scored a direct hit on the Buchris family home.
“We were sitting in the living room and all of a sudden the aquarium exploded and there was smoke everywhere and glasses flew everywhere and we were filled with blood,” said Aharon Buchris, wounded along with his wife and two teenage daughters, as he awaited surgery in hospital.
Israel has been warning Hamas in recent weeks that while it has no interest in exacerbating hostilities, it will not tolerate Gaza militants’ continued efforts to breach the border and its campaign to devastate Israeli border communities with incendiary attacks.
Hamas-led border protests are aimed in part at drawing attention to the Israeli-Egyptian blockade imposed after Hamas took control of Gaza in 2007. Over 130 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli fire since protests began on March 30.
With Israel focused on rising tensions along its northern border in its efforts to prevent Iran from establishing a permanent military foothold in post-war Syria, it has been wary of escalating violence in Gaza.
But Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has also come under pressure to act from southern Israeli communities that have once again found themselves under rocket fire from Gaza in addition to contending with the daily field fires. Netanyahu vowed on Saturday that Israel would continue to strike as long as necessary. His Cabinet was convening on Sunday to discuss the situation.
Hamas, meanwhile, has been trying to break out of its isolation and spotlight the hardships of the impoverished strip without invoking the full wrath of Israel.