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Update: March 26, 2019
ISRAEL AND OVERSEAS
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Update: March 26, 2019
Our Israel office reports that while violence continued overnight in the Gaza region, recent hours have been quiet, amid unconfirmed reports about a possible ceasefire agreement having been reached.
At 5:30pm Israel-time yesterday (almost the exact moment that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu began his meeting with U.S. President Donald Trump), Israel launched a series of attacks on Hamas and Islamic Jihad military targets in the Gaza Strip. The hits were in retaliation for yesterday’s rocket attack that destroyed a home in Moshav Mishmeret, just north of Ra'anana and Kefar Sava, and injured seven.
During the Israeli air strikes, some 15 targets were hit, including the office of Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh, as well as a building described by the Israel Defense Forces as a secret Hamas intelligence facility. Video footage of the IDF strike can be seen here. IDF tanks and attack helicopters also targeted several Hamas military posts. Hamas leaders, anticipating the Israeli strikes, had abandoned major terror facilities, and as a result no injuries have been reported on the Palestinian side.
As the same time, Hamas continued to fire rockets into southern Israel, with more than 60 launches overnight, each time activating sirens across the region. Thousands of residents ran repeatedly to their shelters. Most of the rockets landed in open fields, while others were intercepted by Israel’s Iron Dome Defense System. One rocket landed on a home in Sderot, but failed to explode. In a video making the rounds in Israel, one young woman from Kibbutz Nir Am filmed herself frightened and huddled in bed while a rocket exploded outside. Additional Iron Dome air defense batteries were deployed throughout the country. As we reported yesterday, two additional brigades were deployed to the Gaza region with approximately 1,000 reservists for air defense and other select units called up.
Within hours of the rocket attack on Mishmeret, The Jewish Agency for Israel provided emergency assistance to the families who suffered various degrees of injuries and heavy property damage. The four families affected by the rocket fire each received thousands of shekels in urgent aid from The Jewish Agency’s Fund for the Victims of Terror, an initiative supported by JFNA. Representatives of The Jewish Agency visited the families who suffered the attack to personally deliver the financial aid as well as to convey the heartfelt support of Diaspora Jewry.
At 10pm Israel time, Palestinian sources announced that Egyptian authorities had brokered a ceasefire agreement between Israel and Hamas. Israel has denied that an agreement was reached. Nonetheless, there have been no Hamas rockets or Israeli strikes since just after 3:00 am.
Despite a few hours of quiet, schools and other educational institutions in the south, including in Ashkelon and Be’er Sheva, are closed today, leaving some 200,000 school students at home, and many of their parents unable to go to work.
As a result of the tensions, Prime Minister Netanyahu cut short his U.S. trip, and skipped his speech at the AIPAC Conference. He is due to arrive back in Israel on Tuesday afternoon and will head directly to military headquarters in Tel Aviv for urgent consultations. While members of the government have repeated that the upcoming elections are not a factor in any Israeli decisions regarding Gaza, most commentators agree that Netanyahu is in a difficult position. On the one hand, entering a larger military confrontation always entails risks; something the Likud-led government would certainly want to avoid before elections. On the other hand, Netanyahu does not want to appear as weak by giving into Hamas and accepting a ceasefire. In fact, even politicians on the left have been saying that Netanyahu is “capitulating to Hamas,” “indecisive,” and “weak on security.”
A number of commentators have speculated that if the current crisis escalates into a more serious military confrontation, then the Knesset may vote to postpone elections.
The escalation in Gaza has also overshadowed what on most other days would have been major news: The official recognition by the United States of Israel’s sovereignty over the Golan Heights. Israel won the territory during the 1967 Six Day War, and extended Israeli law to the area in 1981. The U.S. move, welcomed by Israeli leaders across the political spectrum, is a major victory for the Prime Minister.
President & CEO
The Jewish Federations of North America
(Sources: IDF Spokesperson, Walla! News, The Prime Minister’s Office, Israel News Channel, The Times of Israel)