Ceasefire holding after four days of cross-border hostilities
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warned Palestinian factions against attempting to violate the Egyptian-brokered ceasefire on Tuesday. In a speech at a meeting of government ministry director generals, Netanyahu said: “Our message is clear: quiet will bring quiet. Whoever violates it or even tries to violate it – we will find him.”
Netanyahu praised the military, southern mayors and council heads, and residents of the south for their actions and resilience over the four days of cross border fighting. “Israel seeks peace but we are prepared for any challenge,” Netanyahu added.
Thousands of children and teenagers are set to go back to school on Wednesday after three days when they were kept home due to Palestinian rocket attacks, southern municipalities announced Tuesday evening.
After consultation with the Home Front Command, the mayors of Ashdod, Beersheba, Ashkelon and Gan Yavneh said school would resume in full.
One rocket and ten mortars fired from Gaza on the Eshkol region broke a fragile ceasefire just before noon Tuesday, but all the signs indicated an end to four days of hostilities between Israel and Gaza. Tuesday’s salvos caused no injuries or damage.
An Egyptian-brokered truce largely took effect at 1 a.m. and the Israel Defense Forces reported it had stopped carrying out operations against targets in Gaza.
“We appear to be at the end of this round [of fighting],” Defense Minister Ehud Barak said late Tuesday morning, though he said he did not know when the Israel Defense Forces would be called to act against terror groups in Gaza again.
Barak added that he stands by the original decision to assassinate terror leader Zuhair al-Qaissi, which set off the four days of fighting.
“At the moment we have achieved a satisfactory result, and we are prepared to act as required when this happens again,” he said. “This morning was comparatively quiet, and it is quite possible that we have reached the end of the current cycle of violence.”
President Shimon Peres paid a surprise visit Tuesday to the children of Kibbutz Yad Mordechai, near the border with Gaza.
“There is an unwritten agreement between the two sides which says if there is quiet on one side, there will be quiet on the other,” he said. “Israel will continue to act with all its determination and might against terrorist organizations.”
Hof Ashkelon regional council head Yair Farjoun told the president that, “we are proud to be here, to act as the ‘bulletproof vest’ of the state, and are ready to bear the burden and do all we can to enable Israel’s security forces to successfully complete their tasks.”
Earlier Tuesday, three rockets fell in the Ashkelon, Sdot Hanegev and Eshkol regions. No damage or injuries were reported. A siren was also heard in the Ashkelon region around 10 a.m.
Speaking on Israel Radio Tuesday Homefront Defense Minister Matan Vilnai said the current round of violence appeared to “be behind us.”
IDF Chief of General Staff Benny Gantz said the hostilities appeared to be over, and that “quiet will be met with quiet and shooting will be met with shooting … the ceasefire depends on the terror groups in Gaza.”
Islamic Jihad called the truce a victory for its martyrs, and was holding various victory processions in Gaza later Tuesday.
An Egyptian security official said that after hours of negotiations, the Palestinians had agreed to stop launching rockets at Israeli cities and Israel agreed to stop targeting terrorists in airstrikes.
Amos Gilad, the Defense Ministry’s director of policy, however, said Israel had given no promises not to target terrorists.
“If Israel has to defend its citizens, it will do so without hesitation,” he told Army Radio.
Police engineers examine the site where a rocket landed in Ashdod on Monday. (photo credit: AP)
Some members of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s right-wing Likud party had called for a ground campaign in the Strip if the rocket fire of recent days persists, Army radio reported on Tuesday morning. However, officials in Jerusalem were wary of an expansive ground campaign that could divert global attention from the Iran nuclear issue and drive a deeper wedge between Egypt and Israel.
Terrorist groups in Gaza launched a barrage of rockets at Israel after the IDF on Friday assassinated Zuhair al-Qaissi, the secretary general of the Popular Resistance Committee terrorist organization, whom the Israel Defense Forces believed was planning a terrorist strike.
Some 200 rockets were launched, injuring eight civilians in Israel, including one who was severely wounded.
Israeli rescue personnel care for a woman injured as a grad rocket from the Gaza Strip hits the southern city of Ashdod, March 12, 2012. (photo credit: Flash90)
Israeli authorities said the Iron Dome anti-missile system intercepted 90 percent of the missiles that were heading toward residential areas, including 28 out of 31 long-range Grad rockets targeting major Israeli cities such as Beersheba, Ashdod and Ashkelon.
Barak praised the anti-missile system, saying a fourth battery would soon be deployed.
“The Iron Dome has made a major contribution to the security of our civilians,” he said. “If everything goes according to plan, we will integrate an additional Iron Dome battery into the system within the next two weeks.”
Twenty-four Palestinians, including five civilians, died in the cross-border fighting. There were no Israeli fatalities, but the lives of 1 million people living in southern Israel were disrupted by frequent sirens warning them to take cover from incoming rockets.