2019 Gaza Conflict
Israel and Egypt have maintained a crippling blockade on Gaza since Hamas seized control of the territory in 2007. About two million Palestinians live in Gaza, whose economy has suffered from years of a blockade as well as recent foreign aid cuts. Unemployment stands at 52 percent, according to the World Bank, and poverty is rampant. Israel has waged three offensives on Gaza since December 2008. The 2014 conflict lasted 50 days and ended with over 2,000 Palestinian deaths, including hundreds of civilians, and 73 killed on the Israeli side. The war in 2014 severely damaged Gaza's already weak infrastructure, prompting the United Nations to warn that the strip would be "uninhabitable" by 2020.
Hamas has governed the Gaza Strip since 2007, after Fatah ceded the territory. The 2017 Cairo agreement, if enacted, would give the Palestinian Authority control over the Gaza Strip in exchange for an end to the sanctions placed on the Strip, which includes cuts to electricity. By 2019 Hamas faceds its toughest domestic test since taking control of Gaza from the rival Palestinian Authority 12 years ago. The Israel-Egyptian blockade, imposed to weaken Hamas, combined with sanctions by the Palestinian Authority and mismanagement by the Hamas government, have all fueled an economic crisis that has left Gaza with an unemployment rate above 50 percent. Hamas had been leading weekly protests along the Israeli border for the past year in hopes of easing the blockade. Israeli forces had killed over 200 protesters in what the UN says could be crimes against humanity.
Palestinian groups in the Gaza Strip announced an Egyptian-brokered ceasefire with Israel on 13 November 2018 after a severe escalation of violence threatened to descend into a full-blown war. The groups, including Hamas, issued a joint statement saying they would abide by the ceasefire as long as Israel did the same. The announcement came after Israeli strikes in Gaza killed three Palestinians, raising the death toll in Gaza to seven in 24 hours, and 14 since Israel's raid began.
Organized by youth movements under the banner of “We Want to Live,” the protests starting 14 March 2019 at first appeared to be an authentic voice of Palestinians venting their anger and frustration over the deteriorating economy. But Hamas discovered the protesters were demanding an end to its rule over the Gaza Strip. Hundreds of Palestinians were detained by Hamas security forces starting Thursday 21 March 2019 for their role in the protests. Among those taken into custody were journalists, human rights activists and Fatah members. Scores of Palestinians were wounded and hospitalized after being beaten by Hamas security officers and militiamen. By Sunday 24 March 2019, it seemed that Hamas had succeeded in crushing the protests. Fatah officials rushed to embrace the protests, describing them as a revolt against Hamas. Hamas will do its utmost to divert attention from its domestic problems by directing Gazans’ anger towards Israel.
The late-night 14 March 2019 attack on Tel Aviv, Israel's densely populated commercial and cultural capital, marked a dramatic escalation in hostilities. It was the first time the city had been targeted since a 2014 war between Israel and Hamas. The rockets triggered air raid sirens across the city. Explosions were heard in Tel Aviv and witnesses said Iron Dome interceptor missiles were fired skyward and detonated - although the military said no rockets were shot down.
Israel launched air attacks on Gaza hours after rockets were fired near Tel Aviv, raising fears of a major escalation in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Explosions were heard in the Gaza Strip 15 March 2019 and Palestinian witnesses said Israeli warplanes bombed Hamas security positions. Four Palestinians were wounded in the raids, the enclave's health ministry said. The Israeli military said it targeted 100 Hamas targets in Gaza, including an office complex used to plan and command the group's activities, an underground complex that served as its main-rocket manufacturing site, and a centre used for drone development.
The Israeli army said its warplanes struck "several" targets in the Gaza Strip on 26 March 2019 as a fragile truce with the territory's Hamas leaders appeared to falter. In Israeli airstrikes against Gaza, 30 houses were completely destroyed and 500 houses were damaged. The Israeli military launched a wave of air strikes on Monday across the Gaza Strip following rocket fire from the enclave that injured seven Israelis north of Tel Aviv. The army reportedly deployed missile-defence batteries in several locations across the country while sending two additional infantry brigades to the Gaza-Israel buffer zone.
Following the heavy fighting in late March 2019, Israel agreed to ease the blockade in exchange for a halt to rocket fire. This included expanding a fishing zone off Gaza's coast, increasing imports into Gaza and allowing the Gulf state of Qatar to deliver aid to the cash-strapped territory. However, Israel did not deliver on these agreements, and scaled back the expansion of the fishing zone at the end of April. In the midst of a hard fought general election, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was unlikely to do anything that might be construed as a concession to the Palestinians.
New hostilities first broke out on Friday 03 May 2019. The outbreak of fighting came days before Muslims begin Ramadan and Israelis celebrate Independence Day. Israel is also due to host the 2019 Eurovision song contest finals in less than two weeks in Tel Aviv.
Israel scaled back the fishing zone in response to rocket fire and shut the border crossings entirely on 04 May 2019 after barrages from the enclave. Israel had also failed to facilitate the promised extra funding from Qatar and that other easings of the Israeli siege have not borne fruit either.
The Palestinian Islamic Jihad terrorist group is preparing a “significant” terrorist attack to undermine the ceasefire arrangement between Israel and Hamas, Yediot Aharonot reported on Monday 01 April 2019. Security forces deployed along the Gaza security fence noticed “unusual” activity by the group’s military wing. According to the Isreli military, the escalation began with the violent clashes during on Friday’s 03 May 2019 weekly March of Return. A PIJ sniper wounded two IDF soldiers stationed on the Gaza border fence, and Israel carried out retaliatory strikes which killed two Palestinians.
Israeli media reported Gaza fighters over the next two days fired more than 400 rockets at towns and cities in southern Israel and that the Israeli Iron Dome anti-missile system had intercepted more than 250 of them. The government media office in Gaza said Israeli warplanes carried out about 150 raids, in addition to artillery-shelling targeting 200 civilian landmarks in the Gaza Strip, including residential buildings, mosques, shops and media institutions.
Armed factions in Gaza, otherwise known as the Joint Operations Room, which include the military wing of Hamas and the Islamic Jihad Movement in Palestine, vowed on 04 May 2019 to "extend its response" if the Israeli army continued to target Gaza. "Our response will be broader and more painful in the event [Israel's] extends in aggression, and we will remain the protective shield of our people and our land," the Joint Operations Room said in a statement.
Palestinian Islamic Jihad released a statement on Saturday afternoon 04 May 2019 threatening the upcoming Eurovision song contest, saying that the group “will prevent the enemy from holding a festival whose purpose is to undermine the Palestinian narrative.... The civilians (of Israel) are destined to hell for the continual expansion of the Israeli aggression toward our people and our resistance,” the statement said. “We say to the decision-makers in Israel: do not dream of having quiet while the Palestinian people pay the price. The resistance is committed to respond to the enemy’s aggression and to surprise him."
"The enemy must know that we will surprise its commanders in the coming hours," Palestinian Islamic Jihad threatened later on Saturday night. After a barrage of rockets reached as far as Gedera, Yad Benyamin and Beersheba, Hamas threatened to start firing rockets at Tel Aviv if Israel continued to attack targets in Gaza.
The European Broadcasting Union stated that despite the rocket attacks, the Eurovision rehearsals “will continue as normal” and the situation will be “closely monitored.” The Home Front Command instructed residents living within 40 km. of the Gaza Strip to consult with heads of local authorities, and remain near protected spaces. Public gatherings were limited to 300 people in enclosed spaces only, and agricultural work was banned.
By 05 May 2019 Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu ordered "massive strikes" on the Gaza Strip after a two-day escalation that killed nineteen Palestinians and four Israelis. Israeli warplanes and gunboats continued to target the Gaza Strip as fighters in the besieged enclave fired a barrage of rockets into southern Israel. "Hamas is responsible not only for its attacks against Israel, but also for the Islamic Jihad's attacks, and it is paying a very heavy price for it," Netanyahu added.
Israeli air strikes have killed at least 20 Palestinians since Saturday, including at least eight militants, two women and two infants. Meanwhile rockets fired from Gaza have killed four people in Israel. About 70 Palestinians were wounded in the attacks, according to Gaza's health ministry.
Defiant Hamas and Islamic Jihad officials said on 05 May 2019 that they don’t rule out the possibility that the current round of fighting in the Gaza Strip could lead to an all-out war with Israel. The warning came as leaders of the two Palestinian groups continued their discussions in Cairo with senior Egyptian intelligence officials on ways of ending the current round of fighting with the Jewish state.
Hamas indicated its readiness for a ceasefire with Israel. Hamas officials in the Gaza Strip did not comment on the reports. Islamic Jihad spokesman Musab al-Braim said that the “resistance was on the threshold of a new phase in repelling the [Israeli] aggression that could lead to an open war.” He said that in light of the continued “aggression on our people and the targeting of children, houses and the implementation of the policy of assassinations, we are on the threshold of this phase, and we will not have mercy on this enemy.”
Israel killed a Hamas commander in the Gaza Strip on 05 May 2019 the first targeted strike since the 2014 war in the Palestinian enclave. A military statement said that Hamed Ahmed Abed Khudri had been responsible for transfering funds from Iran to armed factions in Gaza. Palestinian witnesses said he was killed in an air strike on his car. Israel had suspended what Palestinians call an assassination policy in a bid to lower tensions.
Israel said it was suspending fuel deliveries to Gaza. Diesel, including Qatari-donated fuel for Gaza's only power plant, had continued to enter despite the escalation. Gaza's lone power station said it was turning off one of its three turbines, worsening chronic power shortages.
Hamas spokesperson Fawzi Barhoum in a statement said the movement "hails the Palestinian resistance, which defends the Palestinian people against the Israeli occupation.... The resistance fulfils its national and moral duty towards the Palestinian people, as it is responsible for the safety and security of the Palestinian people." It added that after the "Israeli occupation shed the blood of the Palestinian people at the Great Return March, the Palestinian resistance decided to defend the Palestinian people against the Israeli crimes."
Some 700 rockets had been fired at Israel from the Gaza Strip since the security situation escalated over the weekend. The Iron Dome intercepted 173 rockets, according to Channel 12. If a rocket is shot at a location less than a few kilometers away, Iron Dome doesn’t have enough time to intercept it. In the case of the rocket that hit the vehicle near Kibbutz Yad Mordechai, from the point of view of the system, this was an open area without people. Iron Dome doesn’t intercept such rockets.
On Sunday 05 May 2019 the Gaza-based group Hamas reportedly asked Israel for a ceasefire amid the escalation in the region. Netanyahu ordered the armed forces to continue large-scale attacks against Palestinian militants as well as to reinforce troops deployed to the border with the enclave with additional artillery units, armored and infantry vehicles.
The Israeli military says Palestinian militants have shot nearly 700 rockets from Gaza since Friday, and that Israeli forces have carried out strikes targeting 350 sites used by Hamas and Islamic Jihad. Israel said the smaller military group Islamic Jihad fired the rockets, but it held Hamas, which controls Gaza, responsible.
Palestinian officials said 06 May 2019 a cease-fire with Israel had been agreed to by Hamas and Islamic Jihad. The agreement, reached with the help of Egyptian mediation, was to take effect at 01:30 UTC. So far the cease-fire seemed to be holding. An exchange of rocket fire and airstrikes has killed four Israeli civilians and at least 20 Palestinians since Friday. These are the first Israeli civilian deaths from cross-border fighting since 2014.
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