The women are crying, and they hold handkerchiefs to their faces to wipe away the tears. The men are carrying Othman’s body from the family home to the mosque. On Saturday, just as the funeral of Othman Rami Heles, 15, was taking place east of Gaza City after he was shot by an Israeli sniper on Friday, Mohammed Nasser Sharab, 18, was dying at the European Hospital in Khan Younis. He had also been hit by a bullet the day before, during the protests of the March of Return—which started on March 30 and has not ended since.
The list of casualties shows no sign of ending either: it just rose to 139 dead and 14,000 wounded, a veritable massacre of protesters who do not pose any danger to the lives of the Israeli soldiers (this must be emphasized: since March 30, during more than 100 days of protests, there have been no injuries among the Israeli military or among Israeli civilians).
But on Saturday Gaza wept for two more victims, also teenagers: Amir al Nimra, 15, and Louai Kahil, 16, who were killed in one of the 45 Israeli bombing runs on Gaza. They died in Gaza City, in al-Kateeba square. There seems to be yet another military escalation on the horizon, as Saturday was the worst day in terms of military action since 2014.
As reprisals for the protests on Friday and the flying of incendiary kites, the Israeli army responded during the night with 30 air raids on Hamas positions. The reaction was immediate: Saturday, between sunrise and the afternoon, more than 60 rockets were launched at Israeli territory, activating air-raid sirens 130 times between Ashkelon and Eshkol and injuring three Israelis near a synagogue, while Tel Aviv’s air raids intensified in response: according to the Israeli air force, these hit tunnels, weapons storage facilities, training camps and logistics centers belonging to Hamas, in addition to their headquarters at Beit Lahia.
Throughout the day, in the east and south but also along its coast, the Gaza Strip was bombed, terrorizing the population, which has suffered under three heavy offensives in 10 years. The Ministry of Health has declared the highest level of alert, and the government has warned the population not to go out unless absolutely necessary.
One of the targets was the Kateeba Building, a now-deserted government building in Gaza City, already damaged in 2014, where the two teenagers were killed: the square in front of it is a place where children play and families go out to walk.
The outcome was twenty wounded, which are now added to the thousands during these three and a half months, an enormous weight placed on Gaza, which is under siege and under a blockade that is becoming even stricter: on Friday, Tel Aviv closed the Kerem Shalom crossing, the only one through which medicine and food is allowed to pass.
Again, Israel cited the launch of incendiary kites as a reason for this, confirming that they are using measures that can only be labeled collective punishment. Now, Tel Aviv adds, goods will only be allowed to enter on an individual basis, which will be evaluated case by case.
Meanwhile, Israeli air operations have become more frequent, as has the launch of missiles at Israel, which has been difficult to assign responsibility for in the absence of actual claims: from August 2014, Hamas has not taken action, avoiding any violation of the cease-fire, with the sporadic rocket launches of previous years attributable to small Islamist militias.
This time, the spokesman of Hamas, Fawzi Barhoum, made a collective “claim” to the launches, without attributing them directly to the Islamists: “Following a ruthless Israeli aggression that targeted the Gaza Strip early Saturday morning which traumatized children, women and elderly, the Palestinian resistance factions responded appropriately by targeting Israeli Occupation military sites.”
And if in the past weeks the Egyptian attempts at mediation were still ongoing, with Cairo intending to impose on Gaza the condition of ending the protests, in recent days, according to the Israeli newspaper Haaretz, the Israeli army has been the one sending messages (via intermediaries) to the leadership of Hamas to stop launching incendiary kites.
But that is not the only strategy, and, as the Times of Israel reported Saturday, the Israeli government is considering a number of other options, including the targeted assassination of some leaders of the Islamist movement and an invasion by ground forces. The objective is clear: to end the Great March of Return, a popular initiative that does not appear to be stopping, and that has already led to great embarrassment for Israel. On Saturday, Netanyahu promised to “expand the response”: “If Hamas doesn’t understand the message today, they will understand tomorrow,” he said, calling for a meeting of the Defense Council.
Trying to play the role of mediators are Egypt and the United Nations: Cairo is working towards a ceasefire, according to Egyptian sources reported by the website Walla, while the UN envoy for the Middle East, Mladinov, has already met with Egyptian and Israeli officials. But Israel has already set out its preconditions, sent to both Egypt and the United States: no escalation only if there are no more kites.
The tension is rising, while Washington is engaged in short visits to Arab countries to get their support for a “Deal of the Century.” Cairo has been one of the targets for such visits, and at this point they have said yes.
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