Hamas: We'll Stop Firing if Israel Stops Attacks, Too

Deterrence of Hamas after Cast Lead has now eroded, Maj. Gen. Russo says.

Gaza groups signaled yesterday that they would halt rocket fire at Israel if the IDF stopped carrying out targeted attacks as well, after a surge in cross-border violence prompted fears of a possible escalation into war.

Hamas spokesman Ismail Rudwan said militant leaders were "committed as long as the occupation [Israel] was committed" to abide by an earlier de facto truce. His comments followed a round of talks in Gaza, after of a weeklong swell in attacks.

Tragerman house rocket
Eliyahu Hershovitz

Fire along the Gaza border already dropped precipitously over the weekend, but the Israel Defense Forces fears the lull won't last for long. GOC Southern Command Maj. Gen. Tal Russo yesterday described the situation in the Gaza Strip as "anarchic," as the IDF prepares to deploy the first of the two available Iron Dome missile defense systems in the south this morning.

The army has described the step as an "operational experiment," saying the deployment of the Iron Dome and beginning its actual use will take some time. The Israel Air Force stressed that even the first two batteries will not be enough, and that at least three more will be needed to provide ample defense from Gaza rocket attacks.

Three rockets were fired from the Strip into Israel in the past two days, with one damaging a house in the Eshkol Regional Council and another landing in an open field. Another fell yesterday afternoon. No casualties were reported in any of the incidents.

Visiting the community where the first missile struck, Russo said: "There's anarchy on the other side right now. It will be difficult for Hamas to roll things back. I hope they'll come to their senses."

He added that the anarchy in Gaza has spread both within Hamas and the smaller armed factions, referring to internal disagreements within Hamas on the question of renewing rocket fire on Israel or forcing other organizations to uphold the cease-fire.

Ismail Haniyeh, the head of the Hamas political wing in Gaza and the Palestinian prime minister, is pushing for a return to the relative quiet in the south, but senior officials in the Islamist organization, including some in the armed wing, disagree.

It seems Hamas is also finding it difficult to enforce its authority upon smaller factions, with small groups now carrying out their own policies. The fact many more Grad rockets were smuggled into the Strip in recent weeks and distributed between the factions also makes the situation more difficult to control.

The deterrence achieved after Operation Cast Lead two years ago was eroding, Russo said yesterday. Both the government and the IDF believe it will be difficult to retain any calm for long and that another escalation may occur in the near future.

"We heard the sirens and the rocket exploded about three meters from the living room window," Marcelo Tragerman of a community hit in the south told Haaretz. "My son was standing in the middle of the living room when it happened and the window frame was just thrown at him. It's a miracle neither him nor anybody else was hurt, but a lot of damage was caused."

Many of the community's residents were supposed to arrive at the house just hours later to celebrate the birth of Tragerman's granddaughter. His daughter-in-law, Gila, said "we're thanking God that nobody was hurt, and we'll postpone the celebration for a little while."

Elsewhere in the south, things slowly returned to normal over the weekend. Be'er Sheva Mayor Rubik Danilovich and Ashdod Mayor Yehiel Lasri agreed that schools in their cities will reopen today, after they were closed on both Thursday and Friday.

"In view of the relative calm over the weekend and after consulting security officials, I took upon myself the decision to resume normal operation of the educational system. I will meet tomorrow with the prime minister and we will decide how to go on from here," said Danilovich.

"We may soon return to the emergency routine - in which four rockets fired at civilians near the Gaza border are described by commentators as a 'lull,'" said chairman of the Eshkol Regional Council, Haim Yelin. "It's clear to us that the Iron Dome system is not meant for protection of the area around Gaza and that it's there only temporarily because of the escalation. The state must do everything it can to protect the towns around Gaza and provide them with shelters, as well as develop local infrastructure," Yelin added.

Barak: Iron Dome ‘unprecedented’

On Friday, Defense Minister Ehud Barak and IDF Chief of Staff Maj. Gen. Benny Gantz visited the communities along the Gaza border. Barak said during the visit that he has authorized the deployment of the first operational battery of the Iron Dome.

Although the Iron Dome can fire back when fired upon, and signifies an "unprecedented achievement" of the Israeli military industry, he explained, it does not, at the end of the day, provide a 100% response.