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Rockets and Airstrikes Resume in Southern Israel

By the Jerusalem Post
Amid growing concerns between Hamas and Israel, incoming rocket sirens were activated Tuesday night shortly after Israeli Air Force struck targets in the Hamas-run Gaza Strip. Israeli fighter jets struck several targets in the southern Gazan city of Khan Younis, including a military compound and a weapons manufacturing site belonging to Hamas, the military said. The attack was carried out in response to the launching of a rocket from the Gaza Strip into Israeli territory and the launching of incendiary and explosive balloons. Moments after airstrikes, a rocket was fired from Gaza towards the industrial park south of the city of Ashkelon, the army said. According to reports in Hebrew media the rocket was intercepted over the city, but unconfirmed reports said it fell in open territory causing no damage or casualties. Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, who landed back in Israel in the late afternoon from Washington after cutting his trip short, met with senior security officials at the Kirya military headquarters in Tel Aviv shortly after addressing the AIPAC policy conference via a satellite connection. "We responded with great force," he said. "In the last 24 hours, the IDF destroyed major Hamas terrorist installations on a scale not seen since the end of the military operation in Gaza four years ago." At the same time as diplomatic efforts were taking place with the UN and Egypt acting as mediators between Israel and Hamas, the IDF said it was sending more troops to the Gaza border and approved the call-up of additional reserve forces. The decision to send additional infantry and artillery battalions to the South was made following a situation assessment led by Netanyahu and IDF Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Aviv Kochavi. According to a senior government official, Israel has not agreed to a ceasefire, and the fighting could erupt at any time. "There is no agreement on a ceasefire," he said. "The fighting is liable to be renewed at any moment, and it was decided to reinforce forces and prepare for a continuation." Kochavi also approved completing the summoning of additional reserve soldiers and canceled the exchange of IDF battalions in multiple regions that had been scheduled for later this week. On Tuesday evening, incoming rocket sirens were activated in the South. A projectile landed in an open field, causing neither injury nor damage. Earlier in the evening the IDF began lifting roadblocks, and trains resumed their service in the South following a day of relative quiet on the southern front. According to UN Special Coordinator to the Middle East Peace Process Nickolay Mladenov, his team has been "working intensely with Egypt and all concerned parties to ensure that the situation does not spiral out of control." Speaking during a briefing to the UN Security Council, he added, "Nobody has an interest in a full military confrontation in Gaza." Islamic Jihad official Khader Habib said Netanyahu was refusing to admit that a ceasefire had been reached in order to appear as a strongman to Israelis. "Netanyahu is trying to portray himself as a hero to his people, therefore he publicly denies the understanding reached with the Egyptians," Habib said. "Resistance factions are committed to calm as long as the enemy abides by it." The latest escalation between Hamas and Israel began Monday morning when a long-range J-80 missile launched from Rafah in the southern part of the Strip destroyed a civilian home 120 km. away in the central community of Moshav Mishmeret, wounding seven members of one family and a neighbor. Terrorists fired over 60 rockets into the South and the IDF carried out hundreds of strikes in Gaza overnight. Fighter jets, combat helicopters, tanks and naval vehicles struck on Tuesday morning additional terrorist targets in a military compound belonging to Hamas in Deir el-Balah in the central Gaza Strip, as well as a military compound belonging to Palestinian Islamic Jihad in Beit Lahiya, the IDF said. IDF tanks and attack helicopters and naval vessels also targeted several Hamas posts. "The Hamas terrorist organization is responsible for all the goings on in and out of the Gaza Strip. The IDF is determined to carry out the task of protecting the citizens of Israel and is prepared for various scenarios and intensifying its operations as necessary," the army said. Incoming rocket sirens blasted throughout Sderot and the regional councils of Eshkol, Hof Ashkelon and Sha'ar Hanegev, as at least 30 rockets were fired toward Israel between 10 p.m. Monday and 3:15 a.m Tuesday, after Hamas said it had accepted the Egyptian-brokered ceasefire, which would have begun at 10 p.m. A home in Sderot suffered a direct hit by a rocket on Monday night but there were no injuries. New Right leader Naftali Bennett called on Netanyahu to convene a meeting of the cabinet and take action to "neutralize Hamas. Israel cannot surrender to Hamas again," Bennett said. "This is the 10th round in the past year. Hamas directly hit a family in the center of the country, shot dozens of rockets at the towns by the Gaza border and held 200,000 students, teachers and parents' hostage at home today. We, on the other hand, shot at some empty buildings and didn't even kill one terrorist." Yisrael Beytenu chairman Avigdor Liberman said this wasn't a ceasefire but a total collapse of Israeli deterrence, damaging to the security of Israel's citizens and a total loss of the sense of security. "I will never be a partner to defeatist policies, which is why I resigned from the government several months ago," he said. Knesset member Bezalel Smotrich of the Union of Right-Wing Parties said he doesn't understand how someone who is a resident of the South could think of voting for Netanyahu after this. "Netanyahu's failed behavior can lead to the end of right-wing rule," he said. "So whoever doesn't have an option to vote for the Left, strengthen the real Right."

Hamas: Iran Was Behind Rocket Attack on Central Israel

By United With Israel, & the Jerusalem Post A senior Hamas official has implicated Iran as the force behind the rocket attack into central Israel on Monday morning. In that rocket attack from the Gaza Strip on the Israeli community of Moshav Mishmeret, seven people were hurt. The Israel Hayom daily cites the senior Hamas figure as saying that Iran wanted such an attack to take place in order to hurt Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu in his campaign for the April 9 Knesset election. Tehran allegedly "went over the heads" of the leadership of Hamas, which rules the Gaza Strip, and ordered an Islamic Jihad cell to carry out the attack. "In Gaza, it is believed that Israel won't launch a major operation in Gaza two weeks before the elections," the official said, according to the report.

Hamas was said to be surprised when Israel did, in fact, respond with a series of airstrikes on Gaza, even after the terror group had relayed a message to the mediating Egyptians that it was prepared to cease attacks in an arrangement of "quiet in exchange for quiet." While senior officials in both Egypt and Gaza reportedly confirmed that Iran had ordered the attack, they are said to have asserted that the Hamas leadership was aware of the plans to fire a rocket deep into Israeli territory. The senior Hamas official cited by Israel Hayom said that his organization does hope that more rocket fire at Israel will hurt Netanyahu's chances of remaining prime minister after the upcoming Knesset election. After Hamas officials claimed a rocket attack early Monday morning which injured seven had been `accidental' or caused by `bad weather', senior officials in the Gaza-based terror organization and Egypt now say that the attack was intentional – and carried out at the behest of Iran, with the intention of altering the outcome of Israel's upcoming general election. The Hamas official claimed that Iran had "gone over the heads" of Hamas' leadership, directly ordering a cell operating out of the Gaza Strip to carry out the attack. The cell has been identified as part of the Islamic Jihad organization, a rival terrorist group which operates in the Gaza Strip and Judea and Samaria. While senior officials in both Egypt and Gaza confirmed that Iran had ordered the attack, they claimed that Hamas' military leadership was aware of the plans to fire a rocket deep into Israeli territory – a major escalation of the conflict between Gaza and the Jewish state – adding that the leaders of Hamas' armed wing gave their blessing to the attack. "It is definitely possible that senior Hamas leaders were not informed of the attack," said a senior Egyptian intelligence official involved in mediating talks between Israel and Hamas. "However, the leaders of the military wing of Hamas were notified and even coordinated with the Islamic Jihad's leadership, which was responsible for the preparations [for the attack]." The senior Hamas official who spoke with Israel Hayom said that while the directive to launch the attack came from Tehran, Hamas also hoped the sudden escalation could help drive Netanyahu from office by harming his chances of winning reelection in next month's Knesset election. "In Gaza, it is believed that Israel won't launch a major operation in Gaza two weeks before the elections," the official said. Hamas was surprised when Israel responded overnight with a series of airstrikes on Gaza, rejecting Hamas overtures delivered via Egypt for "quiet in exchange for quiet". Another Hamas security source claimed on Tuesday that the Palestinian Authority security forces were behind phone calls to Palestinians in the Gaza Strip to leave their homes before they were hit by Israeli airstrikes. The source told the Hamas-affiliated Shehab news agency that the PA's General Intelligence Force – headed by Majed Faraj – was behind some of the phone calls made to residents and institutions during Monday's Israeli military strikes, which came in response to the launching of a rocket from the Gaza Strip to the agricultural village of Mishmeret. Several residents of the Gaza Strip said they received phone calls and SMS messages asking them to leave their homes and offices because they were about to be targeted by the Israel Air Force. "An investigation has found that the [PA] General Intelligence Force was behind the phone calls and messages," the source said. "We have been able to identify the numbers used in the phone calls and messages, and it turns out that they belong to the General Intelligence Force." Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri said that the alleged phone calls "reflect the filthy role the Palestinian Authority played in collaborating with the occupation in the war against our people." A senior PA official in Ramallah dismissed the report as "nonsense," and accused Hamas and its media outlets of "spreading lies and fabrications."

IDF build-up continues in Gaza sector. More Hamas rockets expected this week Mar 26, 2019 @ 22:24 Gaza escalation, Lt.Gen. Aviv Kochavi

As both sides gird up for a showdown, whether or not it will take place is anyone's guess, given the dense blackout of secrecy on the duelers' intentions. When Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu returned home from a visit to Washington, which he cut short after a Hamas rocket hit a home in the Sharon region, he went straight into a conference with Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Aviv Kochavi and top security officials. Their most pressing concern was how to get around the stumbling block of Hamas' March of Return anniversary, which the Palestinian terrorist organization means to celebrate to the full, meaning a larger than ever mass onslaught on the Gaza border and the IDF military defenders this coming Friday. After that, Hamas may – or may not – be more accommodating on terms for a ceasefire, but not before.

Intelligence reaching DEBKAfile's sources from the Gaza Strip indicate: ADVERTISING

Hizballah is contemplating limited or token action against Israel as a show of solidarity with the Palestinian terrorists. Hiamas' political leadership is deeply divided on whether or not to continue its rocket offensive against Israel. Israel's decision-makers also appear to be at cross-purposes. One school of thought advises taking advantage of the controversy in the Hamas leadership to strengthen the "moderates." The opposite side argues that Hamas is setting a trap for the IDF. They say that Hamas leaders want the breather they would gain from a phony ceasefire in order to then catch Israel off guard. Israel was indeed caught napping by the Hamas rocket fired at Tel Aviv on March 14 and again on March 25, when a home in the Sharon town of Mishmeret, 120km from Gaza, took a direct rocket hit. Israel's leaders and generals must on no account be lured once again by Egyptian assurances that this time, Hamas is really, really turning over a new leaf and has committed to a truce.

Lt, Gen. Kochavi leads the second camp which refuses to be taken in again by Hamas' wiles. He is preparing the IDF for combat in the Gaza sector that could last some days.. During the conference with Netanyahu in his capacity as defense minister, Kochavi issued the order to continue boosting the forces massing on the Gaza border and mobilizing reservists.

DEBKAfile's military sources report that it still could not be said with certainty that the Israeli government and high command were decided on their next step, when the decision was taken out of their hands by another Hamas rocket fired Tuesday night against the Eshkol district. This rocket drove home the harshness of their dilemma. No serious offensive can be conducted against Hamas and the Islamic Jihad in Gaza without exposing large parts of the country beyond the immediate Gaza neighborhood to the high risk of Palestinian rockets. On the other hand, inaction against Hamas; armed wing, aside from air strikes on empty buildings, only whets the Palestinian terrorists' appetite for more escalation.

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