Author Archive

Iranian leader says US is isolated over sanctions, even among allies 

July 15, 2018

Source: Iranian leader says US is isolated over sanctions, even among allies – Israel Hayom

Amid rising tensions, IDF trains for ground operation in Gaza City 

July 15, 2018

Source: Amid rising tensions, IDF trains for ground operation in Gaza City – Israel Hayom

For second time in 3 days, Israel intercepts drone approaching from Syria

July 15, 2018

Source: For second time in 3 days, Israel intercepts drone approaching from Syria – Israel Hayom

Israel launches ‘its most painful strike’ on Hamas since 2014

July 15, 2018

Source: Israel launches ‘its most painful strike’ on Hamas since 2014 | World news | The Guardian

Violence flares as Netanyahu warns ‘we will increase the strength of our attacks as much as necessary’

Smoke following Israeli strike on Gaza City
 Israel said it carried out its largest airstrike campaign in Gaza since 2014 after Hamas militants fired rockets into Israel. Photograph: Ahmed Zakot/Reuters

The Israeli military carried out its largest airstrike campaign in Gaza since the 2014 war on Saturday, prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu said, as Hamas militants fired dozens of rockets into Israel after weeks of growing tensions.

Two Palestinian teenagers were killed in an airstrike in Gaza City, while three Israelis were wounded from a rocket that landed on a residential home.

Israel said it was focused on hitting militant targets and was warning Gaza civilians to keep their distance from certain sites. But even before the report of casualties the intense tit-for-tat air strikes and rocket barrages still marked a significant flare-up after a long period of a generally low-level, simmering conflict.

“The Israeli army delivered its most painful strike against Hamas since the 2014 war and we will increase the strength of our attacks as much as necessary,” Netanyahu said.

Late on Saturday, Hamas and Islamic Jihad militants in Gaza announced that they had agreed to a ceasefire brokered by Egypt, but sirens warning of incoming rockets still wailed in southern Israel early Sunday and it was unclear if the ceasefire was holding.

Palestinian with a slingshot
 A Palestinian with a slingshot in one of the near-weekly protests at the border. Photograph: APAImages/REX/Shutterstock

Lieutenant Colonel Jonathan Conricus said the latest Israeli sortie, the third of the day, struck some 40 Hamas targets including tunnels, logistical centres and a Hamas battalion headquarters. He said the escalation was the result of the sustained Hamas rocket attacks, its fomenting of violence along the border and its campaign of launching incendiary kites and balloons that have devastated Israeli farmlands and nature reserves.

“Our message to Hamas is that we can and will enhance the intensity of our effort if needed,” he said. “What Hamas is doing is pushing them ever closer to the edge of the abyss … Hamas will have to understand that there is a price to be paid.”

Later, witnesses reported that Israeli warplanes dropped four bombs on an unfinished building near a Hamas police and security compound in Gaza City, reducing the old structure to rubble. The four-story building is adjacent to a public park. Gaza’s Health ministry said two teenagers were killed in the strike and 10 others injured.

It marked the first casualties of the day. Striking in the heart of Gaza City is typically only seen during full-blown conflicts like the 2014 war.

Israeli medical officials said three Israelis were wounded from a rocket that landed on a house in southern Israel. It said paramedics in the southern city of Sderot were treating a 52-year-old man with a chest wound, a 17-year-old girl with a face wound and a 20-year-old woman with injuries to her limbs.

While Israel has been focused on rising tension along its northern border in its efforts to prevent Iran from establishing a permanent military foothold in post-civil war Syria, it has been wary of escalating hostilities in Gaza. But Netanyahu has also come under pressure to act from southern Israeli communities, who have once again found themselves under rocket fire from Gaza in addition to contending with the daily field fires.

Balloons with incendiaries
 Balloons loaded with incendiaries fly towards Israel during a confrontation between Palestinian demonstrators and Israeli troops. Photograph: Mahmud Hams/AFP/Getty Images

On Friday, thousands of Palestinians gathered near the Gaza border for their near-weekly protest. A 15-year-old Palestinian who tried to climb over the fence into Israel was shot dead. Later the military said an Israeli officer was moderately wounded by a grenade thrown at him.

The Islamic militant group Hamas that rules Gaza has led border protests aimed in part at drawing attention to the Israeli-Egyptian blockade imposed after Hamas took control of Gaza in 2007, which has caused widespread economic hardship.

Over 130, mostly unarmed, Palestinians have been killed by Israeli fire since protests began on March 30.

Israel says it is defending its sovereign border and accuses Hamas of using the protests as cover for attempts to breach the border fence and attack civilians and soldiers. Most recently, it has been struggling to cope with the widespread fires caused by the incendiary kites and balloons floating over the border.

In a statement, the military said Hamas’ activities “violate Israeli sovereignty, endanger Israeli civilians and sabotage Israel’s humanitarian efforts that aim to help Gazan civilians”.

In a relatively rare admission, Hamas said it fired the rockets to deter Israel from further action. Most of the recent rockets from Gaza have been fired by smaller factions but Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum said it was an “immediate response” that was meant to “deliver the message”.

A glimpse of Europe’s true face 

July 15, 2018

Source: Column One: A glimpse of Europe’s true face – Opinion – Jerusalem Post

The time has come for Israel to finally stop taking European rhetoric seriously.

BY CAROLINE B. GLICK
 JULY 12, 2018 21:54
Mogherini and Ahmed Aboul Gheit

Due to an unusual conflation of events, over the past two weeks we’ve caught a rare glimpse of the face of European foreign policy. We shouldn’t let it pass unremarked.

Last Friday, the European Union’s foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini presided over a curious summit in Vienna. In the same hall where she and her colleagues concluded the nuclear deal with Iran three years ago, Mogherini and her comrades tried to concoct ways to save the deal by undermining American power and defying its decision to abandon the deal.

Mogherini was joined in her efforts by the German, French and British foreign ministers. Sitting opposite them were Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif, and the Russian and Chinese foreign ministers. Together they brainstormed ways to undermine the economic sanctions the US will begin implementing next month against Iran and anyone from anywhere that trades with Iran.

The Europeans made some suggestions. For instance, the European Investment Bank, they said, is authorized to invest in projects in Iran. European governments are willing to make direct deposits in Iranian banks to get around US restrictions on bank transfers to Iran.

The Germans apparently are the keenest to continue the money flow to Tehran. Bild, a Berlin-based tabloid, reported on Tuesday that Iran has asked the European-Iranian Trade Bank, which is majority owned by Iranian state-owned banks but registered in Hamburg with the Bundesbank, Germany’s central bank, to permit it to withdraw €350 million in cash. The Iranians intend to fly the cash to Tehran to avoid the prospect of the accounts being frozen once US sanctions are reimposed. According to the Bild report, the German government supports the cash transfer. The Merkel government believes the Iranian claim that the money will be distributed to Iranian businessmen who will be barred from using credit cards in international commerce due to the US sanctions.

The Germans apparently are happy to ignore the fact that Iran routinely uses cash to pay for its wars in Syria and Yemen. Iran regularly transfers millions of dollars in cash to Hamas in Gaza. Cash is its routine method of financing Hezbollah and its terror empire in Lebanon and throughout the world – including in Germany.

The Germans don’t care about that. Their goal is not to prevent terror. Their goal is to flood Iran with money.

Mogherini’s summit in Vienna was a statement of deep contempt for the US. Days before US President Donald Trump was scheduled to arrive on the continent, the leaders of Europe publicly colluded with Iran, China and Russia to undermine and weaken America. While shocking in and of itself, Europe’s behavior didn’t tell us anything we didn’t already know.

Mogherini has been publicly attacking the US for walking away from the nuclear deal and declaring her allegiance to the pact three times a day, every day since May 8 when Trump announced he was pulling the US out of it and reimposing sanctions on Iran.

What we didn’t know until recently is why Mogherini and her colleagues have chosen to stand with Iran against America.
We got the answer on June 30.

Six days before the Vienna summit, Belgian security forces arrested members of an Iranian terror cell as they made their way to Paris to blow up a rally held that day by the Iranian opposition movement Mujahedin e-Khalq. The cell was led by Asduallah Asadi, the head of Iran’s intelligence network in Europe. Asadi is registered as the Iranian intelligence attaché at the Iranian embassy in Vienna. He is an officer of the Revolutionary Guards’ al-Quds Brigade, which is responsible for Iran’s foreign terror operations.

Thousands attended the rally in Paris. Among the many VIPS present were former prime minister Ehud Barak, former Canadian prime minister Stephen Harper and former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani.

The arrests in Belgium drove home the fact that Iran has developed a massive terror infrastructure in Europe. The terror operatives who were arrested lived and operated in at least four countries: Germany, Austria, Belgium and France.
On the face of it, it is amazing than right after terrorists under the direct command of the Iranian regime were caught en route to carrying out an attack in Paris, Europe’s top diplomats sat down with the leaders of the regime and brainstormed how to shower them with cash in open defiance of the United States.

And that isn’t all. It is true that Mogherini and her colleagues insist the nuclear deal they love so much prevents Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons. But it is also true that they know they are lying.

The Europeans don’t need Trump or Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to tell them the deal gives Iran a clear path to a full-blown nuclear arsenal within a decade. They have known that all along. And it’s never bothered them.

So in under a week, an Iranian terror cell tried to blow up a rally in Paris and Europe’s leaders reacted by hosting their bosses in a fancy hall and promising them billions of dollars and a nuclear arsenal within a decade in defiance of the US.
WHY WOULD the Europeans do this? What does this tell us about the nature of their policy?

The first thing all of this tells us is that Europe has a very clear Iran policy. It tells us that there is no connection whatsoever between Europe’s rhetoric – which insists that Iran must not acquire nuclear weapons and that Iran must end its sponsorship of terrorism – and Europe’s policy.

As to the policy itself, Europe’s Iran policy is a policy of pure appeasement, based on profound weakness. Mogherini and her comrades are fully aware that Iran can cause them harm and intends to cause them harm. Through payoffs and betrayal of the US they hope to convince the Iranians to attack someone else instead of them. They don’t care if it’s Israel or Saudi Arabia or America. As far as the Europeans are concerned, Iran can kill whoever it wants, so long as it doesn’t attack Europe.
This is Europe’s Iran policy. It has no other policy.

There is nothing unique about Europe’s Iran policy. Appeasement predicated on weakness and an absence of any will to defend itself stands at the heart of Europe’s policies towards all of its enemies. As for its allies, Europe expects them to serve its needs, and appease it in exchange for nodding, condescending approval.

At the NATO summit on Wednesday, Trump exposed this basic fact in relation to Europe’s Russia policy. When Russia annexed Crimea in 2014, no one condemned the move more passionately than the Europeans. And German Chancellor Angela Merkel stood at the front of the column of denouncers proclaiming Russia’s aggression would not stand.

And yet, as Trump revealed in his blunt repartee with NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg, while Germany passionately declaimed about Russian aggression and the threat Russia poses to Europe, Merkel was signing massive gas deals with Russia to build and expand the Nord Stream gas pipeline between Russia and Germany. The strategic implication of Germany’s dependence on Russian gas is that the country screaming loudest about Russia has voluntarily rendered its economy dependent on Russian gas.

Merkel did this, Trump noted, while refusing to spend the requisite 2% of German GDP on its national defense and while expecting the US to defend Europe from Russia it on its own dime.

As with Iran, so with Russia, when you see the full spectrum of European actions, you realize there is no connection whatsoever between European rhetoric and European policy. As with Iran, so with Russia, Europe’s actual policy is to appease Russia by paying it off. As with Iran so with Russia, Europe expects the US to pull its fat from the fire when the going gets tough – and pay for the privilege of doing so.

Trump scares the Europeans. He doesn’t scare them because he expects them to pay for their own defense. All of his predecessors had the same expectation. He frightens the Europeans because he ignores their rhetoric while mercilessly exposing their true policy and refuses to accept it. They are scared that Trump intends to exact a price from them for their weak-kneed treachery.

Europe’s policies towards Israel follow a similar script as its other policies. As is the case with Iran and Russia, there is no connection whatsoever between Europe’s rhetoric and its actual policies. With Iran, Europe claims that it is committed to preventing the proliferation of nuclear weapons to Iran while its actual policy is to enable Iran to build a nuclear arsenal. In Israel’s case, Europeans say they strive to advance international law, human rights and peace when their actual policy negates international law, harms human rights and diminishes any possibility of peace.

Whereas Europeans fear the Iranians and the Russians, they hate Israel. And the goal of Europe’s Israel policy is to weaken the Jewish state through delegitimization, political and legal subversion and the constant threat of commercial sanctions.
Israel’s great error in contending with Europe is that we fail to recognize, as Trump recognizes, that European rhetoric doesn’t represent its actual policy. It camouflages it. We send our best lawyers to Europe to explain that our policies conform with international law. We deploy our most talented diplomats to Europe to prove that our actions advance human rights. And our greatest statesmen have spent decades trying to prove our commitment to peace.

And all these efforts are completely irrelevant. The Europeans couldn’t care less about the truth. They aren’t here to promote truth. They prefer lies. Lies help them to hide their policy predicated on hatred of Israel.

The summit in Vienna was a dud. Like Trump, the Iranians understand that European rhetoric gets them nowhere. European banks aren’t willing to lose the American market for Iran. Likewise, European conglomerates are pulling out of deals with Iran one after another to avoid US sanctions.

We don’t know where Trump wants to lead US relations with Europe. But it is clear that he intends to exact a price from Europe for its hostile policies, its weakness towards US adversaries and its double dealing with America.
Israel should draw the appropriate lessons from Trump’s actions and from the truth revealed about the nature of European policy by the events of the past two weeks.

The time has come for Israel to finally stop taking European rhetoric seriously. The time has come for Israel to begin exacting a painful price from Europe for its hostile and damaging policies towards us.

Intelligence Report: Israel needs Trump and Putin in Syria 

July 15, 2018

Source: Intelligence Report: Israel needs Trump and Putin in Syria – Middle East – Jerusalem Post

Netanyahu seeks support from Trump and Putin as Israel’s ‘free hand’ in Syria approaches its end.

BY YOSSI MELMAN
 JULY 15, 2018 04:20
Intelligence Report: Israel needs Trump and Putin in Syria

Though he hasn’t been present there, the spirit of Israel’s prime minister hovered all over the summit meeting between the US and Russian presidents in Helsinki in mid-July. Benjamin Netanyahu worked laboriously mobilizing all his influence in Washington to persuade Donald Trump to meet Vladimir Putin.

The two leaders have mysterious relations that are unfolding as a special investigation of former FBI director Robert Muller into alleged Russian meddling in the last US presidential elections is progressing. Trump and Putin were scheduled to discuss international matters from North Korea to the Russian occupation of the Crimean Peninsula in Ukraine to the trade wars declared by Trump and the conflicts in the Middle East.

The Israeli prime minister, however, is mainly interested in two topics: Iran and the civil war in Syria. He needs both leaders to back his policy on these fronts.

On July 11, four days before the summit, Netanyahu was set to meet Putin and sit next to him in his private box at a Moscow soccer stadium watching together one of the two World Cup’s semi-finals.

It will be Netanyahu’s 10th meeting with the Russian leader in the last three years. He has more Putin’s hours than any other leader in the world.

The frequency and urgency of his encounters with Putin are a result of the fact that the Syrian civil war appears to be reaching its end and the army of President Bashar Assad is on its way to regain its position along the Israeli border on the Golan Heights.

Israel’s interests are to allow the Syrian army to return to its posts along the border as mandated by the 1974 agreement on “Disengagement of Forces” between the two sides, which ended the 1973 Yom Kippur War, while preventing any presence of Iranian, Lebanese Hezbollah or Shi’ite militias in undefined areas near the border.

After seven-and-a-half years of violence and bloodshed, including the use of chemical weapons, the death toll among Syrian government forces, opposition forces and civilians is estimated by UN and civil rights groups to be more than 500,000. As of December 2017, approximately 13.1 million people were in need of humanitarian assistance in Syria, with 6.3 million people displaced internally, and an additional 5.4 million registered refugees, making the Syrian situation among the largest humanitarian crises in the world.

Throughout the war years, Israeli policy remained more or less unchanged. Though some of the Israeli intelligence estimates were wrong (“Assad will be toppled within three weeks,” then- defense minister Ehud Barak predicted in 2011), the policy of non-intervention and not taking sides was consistent, with a few minor exceptions.

The Israeli “red lines” set by Netanyahu and the three defense ministers who served under him during this period – Barak, Moshe Ya’alon and Avigdor Liberman – consisted until a year ago of the following.

• To ensure the peace on the Israeli side of the border by responding to any violation of its sovereignty, deliberate or errant, by the Syrian army or rebel groups.

• To provide humanitarian aid to the villages next to the border, thus ensuring their gratitude and minimizing their incentives to act against Israel. So far, Israel has treated in its hospitals 3,500 victims, many of them children and women, and supplied more than a hundred tons of medical aid, food, clothes and tents worth nearly $100 million, which mostly was financed by contributions from evangelical communities in the US.

• According to foreign reports, the “good border” relations also included a supply of light weapons, ammunition and communication gear to the moderate, national-secular rebels groups near the border. In return, according to these reports, Israel, gleaned good intelligence on what was happening in Syria and beyond.

• To secure the safety of the Syrian Druze community (roughly half a million people), in order to calm down Israel’s own small Druze community (about 120,000), whose members serve in the Israeli armed and security forces and are considered loyal citizens of the Jewish state.

• To crush by military force efforts by Iran and Hezbollah to create a terrorist infrastructure on the Syrian side of the Golan Heights.

• To conduct air strikes and demolish transfers from Iran via Syria to Hezbollah of sophisticated weapons.

These goals were more or less achieved by a wise policy of the Israeli military and government by employing the tactics of a tightrope dance that combined determination, sensitivity and caution.

Even the arrival of the thousands of members of the Russian contingency and especially its air force and state-of-the-art anti-aircraft batteries didn’t stop Israel from preserving and enhancing its national interests. This was possible by establishing direct “hotlines” between Hmeimim Air Base in northwestern Latakia, where Russian headquarters is located, and the IDF and Israel Air Force headquarters in Tel Aviv.

The occasional talks between Israel and Russian officers helped “deconflicting” and the prevention of dog fights between Israeli and Russian pilots. On top of that, in his rounds of meetings with Putin, it seems that Netanyahu obtained from the Russia leader the license to almost freely operate in Syria as long as targets were not fully identified with the Assad regime.

But a year or so ago, Israel’s red lines were redefined and extended. While all the above interests are still in place, Israel has added a more important goal: to remove the presence of Iranian, Hezbollah and Shi’ite militias as far as possible from the Israeli border.

Netanyahu and Liberman have stated time and again that Israel would not tolerate any Iranian or pro-Iranian presence in the entire country of Syria. But even the top Israeli political and military echelon know that this is an unachievable goal.

A few weeks ago, Russia announced that its official position is that when the war is over, “all foreign forces” will have to leave Syria. Israel was satisfied and encouraged by this statement.

Nowadays there are Russian, Iranian, Turkish and American troops helping either the Assad regime in its war against the defeated ISIS, or Kurdish rebels (supported by 2,000 American troops) fighting against Turkey and aiming to create an autonomous. In early July, however, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov redefined his government’s position by saying that it would be “unrealistic” to ask Iran to leave or withdraw all its forces from Syria.

So far, the IAF struck Hezbollah and Iranian targets in Syria with impunity. Israeli cabinet ministers and high-ranking IDF officers told me they assume that it is still in the Russian interests to weaken Iranian presence in Syria. Nevertheless, they understand that it  will be very difficult to achieve a total withdrawal of the Iranian, Hezbollah and Shi’ite contingents from Syria.

“Our flight policy in Syria” is about to change, they added. Thus, Israel will have to settle for less.

Israel’s real new red lines are now limited but much more important strategically. They aim to push Iranian troops and their allies 50-60 kilometers from the border, and to persuade Putin and via him Syrian President Bashar Assad, to prohibit the deployment of Iranian missiles and air defense systems on Syrian soil. If these goals are reached, Israel will allow and even encourage the return of the Syrian army to its 1974 positions along the border, so long as it respects the buffer zone (up to 10k from the border) and its limitations regarding a no-fly zone and the number and size of tanks and heavy artillery to be deployed in the area.

With the imminent return of Assad’s forces, the United Nations troops known as UNDOF (UN Disengagement Observer Force) will also return. At its peak, the force consisted of 3,000 soldiers from more than dozen nations. But because of the war, UNDOF was reduced to 1,000 troops now led by an Indian general.

Assad is well aware of the destructive power of Israel. He wants to consolidate his rule all over Syria and restore stability. But he is also a weak leader who owes his power to Iran and Russia. Israel can ruin his “party.” Nevertheless Netanyahu can’t solely rely on the logic of Assad, who has to be yet released from the Iranian grip.

Israel needs Putin and Trump, who hasn’t made up yet his mind yet on whether to let the US troops stay or leave, and whether to help Assad and Iran understand the new emerging reality.

Netanyahu vows no end to Gaza strikes until Hamas ‘gets the message’ 

July 14, 2018

Source: Netanyahu vows no end to Gaza strikes until Hamas ‘gets the message’ | The Times of Israel

Palestinians fire more than 100 projectiles into Israel, hit synagogue; Liberman reportedly conveys Israel’s demands to Hamas, including end to incendiary kite, balloon attacks

Palestinian youths look at a building that was damaged by an Israeli air strike in Gaza City on July 14, 2018 ( AFP PHOTO / MAHMUD HAMS)

Palestinian youths look at a building that was damaged by an Israeli air strike in Gaza City on July 14, 2018 ( AFP PHOTO / MAHMUD HAMS)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu vowed Saturday that Israel would step up its strikes on Gaza until the Palestinian terror groups halt all violence coming out of the coastal enclave.

Netanyahu said that after consultations with Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman and the IDF chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot it was decided to take “powerful action against Hamas terror.”

“The IDF hit Hamas with the harshest blow since Operation Protective Edge and we will intensify our reaction as much as necessary,” Netanyahu said Saturday evening, after the IDF attacked dozens of targets in the Strip on Saturday, amid relentless rocket fire from Gaza, in the most extensive daytime assault since the 2014 conflict.

“If Hamas does not understand the message today, it will understand tomorrow,” Netanyahu said in a video statement.

Throughout the day Palestinians fired more than 100 rockets and mortar shells at Israel. Three Israelis were wounded when rockets hit a home and a synagogue in the border town of Sderot. They were evacuated to hospital in a moderate condition.

A police officer outside a building hit by a rocket in the city of Sderot. (Israel Police)

Also, Palestinians reported that two teens were killed when the air force bombed a multi-story Hamas training complex in the Gaza Strip, completely destroying the building and exposing a tunnel complex underneath.

The Hamas-run health ministry identified the dead as 15-year-old Amir al-Nimra and 16-year-old Louay Kahil. It said 14 others were wounded in the more than 40 Israeli strikes throughout the day.

The Walla news site quoted a senior defense official as saying that Liberman had been in talks during the day with Nikolay Mladinov, the United Nations Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process.

Mladinov reportedly held talks with several Israeli and Egyptian officials in an attempt to restore calm to the region.

According to Walla, Liberman told Mladinov that Israel’s main demand was the halt of the fire kites and balloons.

People at the scene where a building was hit by a rocket in the southern Israeli city of Sderot, during an escalation in rocket fire in the Gaza envelope Israeli towns, on July 14, 2018. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

Hadashot TV news reported late Saturday that while Hamas leaders have told Egyptian mediators that they will keep firing rockets into Israel until the IDF stops its military actions, and bragged about the rocket fire, the Egyptians told Hamas that Israel is ready for an escalation of the conflict if necessary, and that therefore if Hamas wants the exchanges to stop, it will have to halt first. The TV news report also speculated that while Hamas might now be looking for a ceasefire, the small Islamic Jihad terror group was not.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu chairs the weekly cabinet meeting in his Jerusalem office on July 1, 2018, flanked by Cabinet Secretary Tzachi Braverman (right) and Intelligence Minister Israel Katz (left) (AFP PHOTO / POOL / Tsafrir Abayov)

“The message we are conveying is that we will not accept missiles, explosive devices, mortar shells, or kites,” Israel’s Intelligence Minister Israel Katz told the TV station. “Not any kind of terrorism.”

Over the last few months, Palestinians in Gaza have flown thousands of kites and balloons attached to incendiary devices that have set off hundreds of fires in farm lands and nature reserves along the border with Gaza, destroying tens of thousands of acres.

Firefighters extinguish a fire in a field caused by incendiaries attached to kites flown by Palestinians, from the Gaza Strip, June 27, 2018. (Flash90)

Earlier in the day the IDF said it had three main aims in its military actions in Gaza: Stopping the fire kites, the rocket fire, and the weekly protests along the Gaza border.

The Security Cabinet was to convene for an emergency meeting Sunday afternoon to deal with the escalating violence in Gaza.

Israeli ministers were updated on the developments by phone overnight Friday-Saturday, as residents of Israeli communities near Gaza spent the night in bomb shelters.

Israel’s political leadership was considering a range of possibilities for trying to halt the rocket fire, including targeted assassinations of Hamas terror chiefs, the use of ground forces, and a ceasefire mediated by Egypt and/or others, but no decision had been made as of Saturday late afternoon, Hadashot TV news reported.

Eisenkot also met with senior commanders in the south to review the situation.

Egyptian sources said Cairo was working to prevent a further escalation and towards mediating a ceasefire between Israel and Palestinian terror groups, the Walla news site reported.

Nickolay Mladenov, UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, poses for a photo during the INSS conference in Tel Aviv, January 30, 2018. (JACK GUEZ/AFP)

According to unconfirmed reports in Gaza, by late afternoon Hamas and Islamic Jihad officials had ordered their operatives to halt all rocket fire. Nevertheless, the fire continued unabated.

After midnight Friday-Saturday, the Israel Defense Forces hit an attack tunnel and Hamas training bases in Gaza in response to the moderate wounding of an IDF officer by a hand-grenade thrown during a border riot on Friday.

During the night, Palestinians fired more than 30 projectiles into Israel and kept up the attacks on Saturday, firing a further 60 rockets and mortar shells. Residents of Israeli border communities spent the night in bomb shelters and were cautioned to remain close to the shelters during the day.

Smoke rises above buildings during an Israeli air strike on Gaza City on July 14, 2018. (AFP PHOTO / MAHMUD HAMS)

The IDF said Iron Dome intercepted 20 projectiles in total that were headed for residential areas.

The primary target of the IAF strikes Saturday was the Hamas battalion headquarters in Beit Lahia, in the north of the Strip, the army said.

“The focus of the attack is a wide-scale strike of the Hamas Battalion HQ in Beit Lahia, which includes urban warfare training facilities, weapon storage warehouse, training compounds, command centers, offices, and more,” the IDF said in a statement.

An aerial illustration of the Hamas Battalion headquarters in Beit Lahia. (IDF Spokesperson)

“In addition, a weapons manufacturing site and storage facilities housing various types of weapons, including Hamas’ naval capabilities, were struck,” it said.

The air force also attacked a Palestinian terrorist cell launching mortar shells.

The IDF spokesman said the aim of the operation was to “restore a sense of security” and that the military would “respond as necessary” to a wide range of scenarios.

Local residents, who had earlier been told they could return to their usual routines after a barrage overnight Friday, were instructed to remain close to bomb shelters, and large gatherings of people were to be canceled.

Hamas on Saturday said the barrage of rockets and mortar shells into Israeli territory overnight was fired by the “resistance” to “stop Israeli escalation.”

The spokesman for the terrorist group, Fawzi Barhoum, also said the projectiles were an “immediate response” that was meant to “deliver the message” to Israel.

The army said it held Hamas responsible for all violence emanating from Gaza, which the terror group has ruled since 2007.