Is­rael steps up strikes as Gaza at­tacks in­ten­sify

The Tribune (SLO) - - News - BY JOSEF FEDERMAN AND FARES AKRAM

Gaza mil­i­tants fired hun­dreds of rock­ets into south­ern Is­rael on Sun­day, killing at least four Is­raelis and bring­ing life to a stand­still across the re­gion in the blood­i­est fight­ing since a 2014 war. As Is­rael pounded Gaza with airstrikes, the Pales­tinian death toll rose to 23, in­clud­ing two preg­nant women and two ba­bies.

The blood­shed marked the first Is­raeli fa­tal­i­ties from rocket fire since the 2014 war. With Pales­tinian mil­i­tants threat­en­ing to send rock­ets deeper into Is­rael and Is­raeli re­in­force­ments mass­ing near the Gaza frontier, the fight­ing showed no signs of slow­ing down.

Is­raeli Prime Min­is­ter Benjamin Ne­tanyahu spent most of the day hud­dled with his Se­cu­rity Cab­i­net. Late Sun­day, the Cab­i­net in­structed the army to “con­tinue its at­tacks and to stand by” for fur­ther or­ders. Is­rael also claimed to have killed a Ha­mas com­man­der in­volved in trans­fer­ring Ira­nian funds to the group.

Is­rael and Ha­mas, an Is­lamic mil­i­tant group that seeks Is­rael’s de­struc­tion, have fought three wars since Ha­mas vi­o­lently seized con­trol of Gaza from West­ern-backed Pales­tinian forces in 2007. They have fought nu­mer­ous smaller bat­tles, most re­cently two rounds in March.

While lulls in fight­ing used to last for months or even years, th­ese flare-ups have grown in­creas­ingly frequent as a des­per­ate Ha­mas, weak­ened by a crip­pling Egyp­tian-Is­raeli block­ade im­posed 12 years ago, seeks to put pres­sure on Is­rael to ease the clo­sure.

The block­ade has rav­aged Gaza’s econ­omy, and a year of Ha­mas-led protests along the Is­raeli frontier has yielded no tan­gi­ble benefits. In March, Ha­mas faced sev­eral days of street protests over the dire con­di­tions.

Ha­mas leader Is­mail Haniyeh said in a state­ment late Sun­day that the mil­i­tant group was “not in­ter­ested in a new war.”

He sig­naled readi­ness to “re­turn to the state of calm” if Is­rael stopped its at­tacks “and im­me­di­ately starts im­ple­ment­ing un­der­stand­ings about a dig­ni­fied life.”

With lit­tle to lose, Ha­mas ap­pears to be try­ing to step up pres­sure on Ne­tanyahu at a time when the Is­raeli leader is vul­ner­a­ble on sev­eral fronts.

KHALIL HAMRA AP

An Is­raeli rocket falls over a res­i­den­tial build­ing in Gaza City on Sun­day. Pales­tinian mil­i­tants in the Gaza Strip on Sun­day in­ten­si­fied a wave of rocket fire into south­ern Is­rael, strik­ing towns and cities across the re­gion while Is­raeli forces struck dozens of targets through­out Gaza, in­clud­ing mil­i­tant sites that it said were con­cealed in homes or res­i­den­tial ar­eas.

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