Israel and Hamas reportedly engaged in the heaviest attacks since the 2014 war on May 29.
The conflict came just days after dozens of Palestinians were killed and thousands others were injured during a series of protests that took place between March 30 and May 15.
The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) launched airstrikes in the Gaza Strip, hitting at least 35 targets, which, according to the Israeli army belonged to Hamas and Islamic Jihad. Earlier, the IDF claims, the two groups fired around 30 mortar shells into southern Israel, the largest such assault since 2014. One projectile allegedly damaged an empty kindergarten building. Israel’s Iron Dome aerial defense system intercepted up to 25 projectiles.
“This is definitely the biggest barrage of rockets and mortar fire to Israel since Operation Protective Edge in the summer of 2014,” said IDF spokesman Lt Col Jonathan Conricus. “And equally, it is also the largest IDF response, or retaliatory attack.”
While Israel maintains it struck Gaza in retaliation, an AFP report states the hostilities started late night on May 26 when Israel struck two sites in the Gaza Strip, which Israel believes, were associated to Hamas.
So, why did Israel strike the Gaza Strip on May 26?
The Israeli military said in a statement that it responded to "a brief incursion across the Gaza border earlier in the day by Palestinian protesters who immediately fled back into Palestinian territory," according to the AFP report.
The statement didn't elaborate as to what exactly the "brief incursion" was. It also stated the attacks were also a response to "repeated Palestinian attempts to damage the border fence and ‘security infrastructure’ during ongoing border protests."
It is important to mention here Israel's definition of "damage to border fence and security infrastructure" is quite vague and subjective. It can include actions like Palestinian protesters trying to scale the border fence to Palestinian protesters standing near it. As was seen during the border protests, IDF soldiers shot at, and even killed, many Palestinian protesters who merely approached the border fence.
The protests began peacefully. As per the video evidence and independent reporting available from that period, the situation escalated only after the Israeli forces started shooting at the largely unarmed Palestinian protesters, indiscriminately, killing at least 118 of them.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has pledged to respond “with great force” following the mortar strikes by Hamas and Islamic Jihad. While he did not mention Israel's May 26 assault, he blamed the attack on the two groups, saying Israel would “exact a heavy price from anyone who tries to attack it."
The last time Netanyahu delivered a similar statement in 2014, Israel launched a 50-day military operation in the Gaza Strip that resulted in the deaths of over 2,200 Palestinians, including 551 children 64 Israeli soldiers and six Israeli civilians.
Thumbnail/Banner Credits: Reuters