JERUSALEM, Israel – A tentative ceasefire that went into effect Saturday evening seemed to be holding Sunday, following the biggest flare-up with Islamic terror groups in the Gaza Strip since Operation Protective Edge in 2014.
The IDF Home Front Command lifted restrictions on large gatherings in Gaza-perimeter communities and allowed residents to return to their normal routines Sunday. They'd been told to stay close to their bomb shelters.
There were mixed responses to the Egyptian-brokered ceasefire. Education Minister Naftali Bennett said Hamas can't be allowed to call the shots.
Education Minister Naftali Bennett, Photo, CBN News, Jonathan Goff
"Allowing Hamas to dictate the terms of the ceasefire to use after two months of arson attacks and hundreds of rockets on the residents of Gaza border communities is a serious mistake," Bennett said in a statement. "Showing restraint creates an escalation in violence."
IDF Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Gadi Eisenkot said airstrikes will continue until a diplomatic solution is reached.
The violence began Friday afternoon during weekly protests at the Gaza border. Every Friday afternoon, thousands of protesters gather after Friday prayers at Israel's border. Protesters launch fire kites and other explosive devices at border troops. Over the past few months, thousands of acres of Israeli farmland, parks and nature reserves have been burned up.
Burned field in southern Israel, Photo, CBN News, Jonathan Goff
The demonstrations began when March 30, when Hamas launched itse "Great March of Return," initially billed as "peaceful." Later, Hamas leaders admitted the protests were not intended to be peaceful. After six weeks, Hamas officials said the demonstrations would continue indefinitely.
When an Arab youth wounded an IDF officer with a grenade Friday, soldiers fired back, killing him. Troops killed a second youth trying to infiltrate Israel.
On Friday evening, Hamas retaliated with rockets and mortar shells. One rocket hit a home in Sderot, wounding four family member with shrapnel. Another exploded on a synagogue lawn.
All told, terrorists fired 200 rockets and mortar shells on Israel. Iron Dome anti-missile batteries intercepted 30 of them.
The rocket fire continued Saturday morning, prompting more Israeli airstrikes.
On Sunday, a senior Air Force officer described the escalation as "surprising" and "exceptional."
Israel Air Force fighter, Photo, GPO archive
"We have been preparing for months for the possibility of escalation with a wide range of targets," Israel's Arutz Sheva quoted the officer. "We attacked a number of surprising targets, such as two offensive tunnels, a battalion compound, and the attacks were in the light of day, which was exceptional."
One airstrike damaged a high-rise building.
"The structure that we attacked was once a public building, and they turned it into a [military] training structure, including the offensive [attack] tunnel below [dug under the building]."
The officer said their orders were "to harm Hamas's infrastructure and not terrorist operatives."
"It's challenging because the enemy is advancing and we need to develop capabilities that will allow us to do it always with the aim of avoiding harm to the uninvolved."
The IDF restrained its response.
"We did not use all the force during the weekend. We are very prepared. We have dozens of targets and planned armament, with precise intelligence and in very good coordination with [the IDF's] Southern Command," he said.
The targeted sites included command offices and military camps and seriously damaged the Hamas military.
"We worked more than 24 hours in a very professional atmosphere and with control cells working day and night. There were many challenges and we are prepared for what lies ahead," he concluded.