Israel Beefs Up Forces on Gaza Border, Prepares Harsher Response if Rocket Fire Persists

After several days of rocket fire, security cabinet members are concerned that Israeli strikes at this point would play into Hamas' hands and fan the flames in Jerusalem, which has also seen an uptick in violence

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Palestinian boy swirls homemade sparkler as they burn tires during a rally in support of demonstrators in Jerusalem, Gaza City, last week.
Palestinian boy swirls homemade sparkler as they burn tires during a rally in support of demonstrators in Jerusalem, Gaza City, last week.Credit: MAHMUD HAMS / AFP

Israel's security cabinet authorized on Monday a harsher military response if rocket fire from the Gaza Strip persists, following days of flare-up between Israel and Hamas.

Meanwhile, the Israeli military began beefing up its presence along the Gaza border and preparing for any potential escalation.

Cabinet sources said a full-blown military operation was not on the table, but Israel would like to see a response beyond targeted attacks, similar to the ones carried out in Gaza over the past days.

Ministers authorized Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Benny Gantz in advance to order a strike in Gaza if tensions escalate, so as to avoid reconvening the cabinet later on Monday.

However, cabinet ministers believe that an Israeli strike at this point might play into Hamas' hands and fan the flames in East Jerusalem, which has seen clashes between Jewish far-right groups, Palestinians and police forces over the past days.

Israel Defense Forces Chief of Staff Aviv Kochavi presented possible attack plans to the ministers and defense establishment officials presented various response scenarios if more rockets are launched from Gaza.  

At the same time, Israel's defense establishment is trying to prevent a security escalation with the Strip. Security sources have said that due to Hamas' failure in dealing with the health crisis in the enclave caused by the coronavirus pandemic, some figures in the organization are seeking to bring about a low-intensity escalation.

This, Hamas officials hope, will help the militant organization better handle the situation in Gaza.    

Earlier on Monday, Israel closed off Gaza's fishing zone completely after a third night of rocket attacks from the enclave.

Militants launched five rockets from Gaza into southern Israel on Sunday night, the military said, following two nights of rocket fire that intelligence officials have linked to violence in Jerusalem.

The Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories said Gaza's fishing zone would be closed until further notice, reiterating that Hamas is responsible for any violence coming out of the Strip. 

On Friday, it struck Hamas' underground infrastructure and rocket launchers in Gaza following a barrage of 36 rockets.

Sources in Gaza also reported shelling at a Hamas position east of the Bureij refugee camp in central Gaza. 

Kochavi canceled his trip to the United States on Sunday due to the flare-up. Following an emergency security meeting on Saturday over riots in Jerusalem and the subsequent Gaza escalation, senior Israeli security officials said that if tensions in Jerusalem continue, Israel is likely to witness a escalation of violence across the country, and that the unrest could spread beyond its borders. 

The Fatah-linked Nidal al-Amoudi Division of the al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades and Abu Ali Mustapha Brigades, the armed wing of Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, claimed responsibility for the rockets fired on Friday, and both said that their operations were carried out in response to recent events in Jerusalem.

It is unlikely that the groups would've fired rockets without Hamas' consent, sources in Gaza said.

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