Israel’s Netanyahu says no ceasefire with Gaza if arson attacks continue

Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has made clear that Israel will now consider arson attacks from Gaza in the same way that it considers launches of rockets and mortars.

Speaking ahead of his weekly Cabinet meeting Sunday, Netanyahu referenced Saturday’s announcement from Gaza militant groups that a ceasefire had been reached after a serious escalation in tit-for-tat rocket attacks and airstrikes.

“I heard it being said that Israel has agreed to a ceasefire that would allow the continuation of terrorism by incendiary kites and balloons; this is incorrect,” Netanyahu said. “We are not prepared to accept any attacks against us and we will respond appropriately.”

The comments came after Hamas and Islamic Jihad, the two largest militant factions in Gaza, said Saturday a ceasefire agreement was reached with Israel. Two hundred projectiles, including rockets and mortars, were fired toward Israel in the previous 24 hours, Israel Defense Forces said. Israel said it carried out what it called its single largest bombing campaign in Gaza since the 2014 war.

Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum told CNN that “since the start of the Israeli strikes on Gaza, various mediation efforts (led by Egypt) to stop the aggression have succeeded in bringing calm and stopping this aggressive escalation.”

Islamic Jihad spokesman Daoud Shihab told CNN, “There have been great efforts … to bring back calm to Gaza. We have agreed to the Egyptian efforts and agreed to the calm and ceasefire as of 8 p.m. local time (1 p.m. ET), if the Occupation commits to stopping its aggression,” using “Occupation” to refer to Israel.

Airstrikes and rocket attacks

Two Palestinian teenagers, Amir Al-Numra, 15, and Luay Kahil, 16, were killed in an Israeli airstrike Saturday in Gaza, according to Palestinian Ministry of Health spokesman Ashraf Al Qidra. Twelve others were injured.

The Israeli military said it had targeted dozens of military sites in four Hamas military compounds in Gaza, including two Hamas tunnels, weapon depots, training facilities and command centers.

In the face of the incoming fire, Israel’s military said that the country’s Iron Dome aerial defense system had intercepted more than 30 projectiles, while many of the rest landed in open areas.

Israeli police said bomb-disposal experts responded to four sites close to the Gaza perimeter where rockets had struck, causing damage and injuries. Four Israelis were injured, including three who were treated for light-to-moderate shrapnel wounds in the town of Sderot after a rocket landed on their house, according to Israeli medical service spokesman Zaki Heller.

In his comments on Sunday, Netanyahu singled out Hamas, the group which runs Gaza, saying, “Whoever hurts us, we will hit them with great strength. This is what we did yesterday. I hope that they got the message; if not, they will get it later.”

In apparent line with Netanyahu’s remarks, the Israeli military said Sunday Israeli warplanes had targeted what it said were two Hamas squads launching incendiary balloons towards Israel.

Saturday’s escalation followed a day of unrest along the fence between Israel and Gaza.

One Palestinian, Othman Hellas, 15, was killed and 220 injured Friday when the Israeli military used live fire and tear gas on protesters, according to the Palestinian Health Ministry. Another Palestinian, Mohamed Shorab, 20, died Saturday from wounds sustained during Friday’s protests, according to the ministry.

The IDF said Palestinian protesters targeted the fence and Israeli soldiers with explosive devices and firebombs. One Israeli officer was moderately injured when a grenade hit him, the IDF said.

Tension along the Gaza border fence has been simmering for months, at times erupting into violent clashes.

Israel has been accused of using excessive force against protesters, an allegation its leaders have denied. Israel claims Hamas is orchestrating the protests.