Palestinians run away from tear gas during a protest against Jewish settlements near Hebron on Friday. Reuters
Israel said early on Friday it has completed a series of air strikes on targets linked to the Islamic Jihad group in Gaza after overnight rocket fire that rattled a day-old truce.
The Palestinian territory’s Hamas rulers, who kept to the sidelines of this week’s fighting, cancelled the weekly protests they organise along the perimeter fence without explanation — apparently in an effort to preserve the calm.
Israel reiterated that it was willing to abide by the ceasefire if there are no additional rocket attacks. The army said in a statement that it struck a military compound, a rocket-manufacturing site and a rebel headquarters in the town of Khan Younis overnight.
The air strikes came after a barrage of rockets late on Thursday. The situation was calm on Friday.
The unofficial ceasefire that began early on Thursday ended a two-day escalation triggered by Israel’s targeted killing of an Islamic Jihad commander. The fighting killed 34 Palestinians, including 16 civilians. Palestinian fighters fired more than 450 rockets towards Israel, paralysing much of southern Israel without causing any deaths or serious injuries.
Islamic Jihad announced the Egyptian-brokered ceasefire, claiming it had extracted several concessions from Israel. Israel does not generally comment on informal understandings with groups and said only that it would halt fire as long as the fighters did the same.
The truce angered many Islamic Jihad supporters, who held protests across Gaza. The barrage of rockets fired into Israel late on Thursday, which Israel said were intercepted by its missile defences, may have been an expression of discontent with the group’s leadership.
Unlike in previous rounds of violence, the more powerful Hamas stayed on the sidelines, adhering to understandings reached through Egyptian mediators after previous rounds of fighting with Israel. Both groups are committed to Israel’s destruction, but Islamic Jihad is seen as more radical and has closer ties to Iran.
Hamas has held weekly demonstrations along the frontier for more than a year to call for the lifting of an Israeli-Egyptian blockade imposed on Gaza when the group seized power from the internationally backed Palestinian Authority in 2007.
The protests often turn violent, with demonstrators hurling rocks and firebombs and Israeli forces responding with tear gas and live ammunition. Hamas has tamped down the protests in recent weeks, apparently as part of the understandings with Egypt.
In return, Israel has loosened the blockade and allowed Qatar to deliver millions of dollars in cash so that Hamas can pay its civil servants.
Hamas and Israel have fought three wars, the most recent in 2014, and have exchanged fire on a number of occasions since then. In the latest fighting, Israel refrained from targeting Hamas, which does not appear to have fired any rockets, a sign that both want to maintain the calm.
Meanwhile, Israel’s military said it was investigating “harm caused to civilians” from an air strike it carried out in Gaza that Palestinian medics said killed eight members of one family including five children.
It was the single deadliest incident in two days of hostilities between Israel and the Palestinian group Islamic Jihad in the Gaza Strip this week during which 34 Palestinians were killed, almost half of them civilians, according to Palestinian officials.
An Israeli military spokeswoman said on Friday that Israeli forces had hit what she described as an “Islamic Jihad military infrastructure” in the central Gaza town on Thursday morning.
“According to the information available to the IDF [Israel Defence Forces] at the time of the strike, no civilians were expected to be harmed as a result of the strike,” she said.
She added: “The IDF is investigating the harm caused to civilians by the strike.”
In the hours after the attack relatives and nearby residents said that all the dead were civilians. However, Israeli military spokesman Lieutenant-Colonel Avichay Adraee said Rasmi Abu Malhous, the head of the family and among the dead, was the commander of Islamic Jihad rocket crews in central Gaza.