The occupied Gaza Strip was subjected to some 100 Israeli strikes overnight Friday after two rockets were fired from Gaza toward central Israel, sounding off sirens in Tel Aviv.
One of the rockets fired from Gaza landed in the Tel Aviv suburb of Holon. No injuries were reported as a result of the two rockets.
Egyptian mediators stated that a ceasefire was declared at 8am Friday morning, and both the Hamas leadership in Gaza and the Israeli military appeared keen to avoid a prolonged escalation.
Both the Hamas and Islamic Jihad factions in Gaza, the organizations most likely to possess mid-range rockets that could reach Tel Aviv, quickly denied responsibility, with Hamas saying that it would discipline those responsible for acting outside the national consensus.
Israel: rockets launched by mistake
Hamas officials were meeting with Egyptian mediators at the time the two rockets were launched. The Egyptian delegation, which has been conducting indirect negotiations between Hamas and Israel for several months, was told to leave by Israel later that night before the bombardment of the Strip.
On Friday, the Israeli military told media that the rockets were likely launched by mistake during maintenance work.
Meanwhile the Great March of Return organizing committee announced that it would postpone demonstrations along Gaza’s eastern boundaries that day, the first cancelation of the weekly protests since their launch on 30 March last year.
The committee obliquely referenced the overnight escalation and called on Palestinians to prepare for a massive mobilization on the one-year anniversary of the protests.
Nearly 200 Palestinians, including 40 children, have been killed during the Great March of Return protests and more than 7,800 injured by live fire.
A United Nations independent commission of inquiry recently published its preliminary report stating that it had collected evidence of war crimes and crimes against humanity by Israel, which has used lethal military force against unarmed protesters in Gaza.
The commission called on Israel to immediately lift its blockade on Gaza – one of the key demands of the Great March of Return – and to investigate “every protest-related killing and injury, promptly, impartially and independently.”
Israeli media reported this week that military police have been instructed to investigate eight additional protest deaths, bringing to 11 the number of fatalities purportedly under review.
B’Tselem, a leading human rights group in Israel, has previously described the Israeli military’s internal probes as a whitewashing mechanism that “serves as a fig leaf for the occupation.”
Israel keeps up the appearance of a robust internal investigative apparatus to ward off accountability in international courts.
The commission of inquiry’s confidential file containing dossiers of alleged perpetrators of international crimes related to the Great March of Return will be handed over to the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights so that it can be transferred to the International Criminal Court.
The situation in the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip has been under preliminary examination by the International Criminal Court since 2015. Its chief prosecutor issued an unprecedented warning to Israeli leaders last year that they may face trial for the killings of unarmed protesters in Gaza.
Judges in The Hague have also ordered the International Criminal Court to reach out to victims of war crimes in Palestine.
Israel refused to cooperate with the UN commission of inquiry and denied entry to investigators, as it meanwhile seeks the deportation of the director of Human Rights Watch’s Jerusalem office.
But while publicly attacking the International Criminal Court, Israel is secretly cooperating with the court’s investigation into its 51-day military offensive on the Gaza Strip in 2014.
“There is concern in the political and military echelons that the court will open a criminal investigation into Israel’s actions in the Strip, a process that could lead to a wave of lawsuits against those involved and even to their arrest abroad,” the Israeli newspaper Haaretz reported in November.
More than 2,250 Palestinians in Gaza, including 1,462 civilians, among them at least 551 children, were killed during the summer 2014 onslaught, according to an independent investigation commissioned by the UN Human Rights Council.
Six civilians died in Israel and more than 60 Israeli soldiers died in fighting with the Palestinian resistance.
One of the commanders of that attack, former Israeli army chief Benny Gantz, seeks to unseat Benjamin Netanyahu, who was prime minister during the 2014 assault, in Israel’s general election on 9 April.
Gantz and another top Israeli officer are currently being sued for war crimes in the Netherlands by Ismail Ziada, a Palestinian-Dutch citizen whose mother and five other family members were killed in the Israeli bombing of their home in Gaza during the 2014 assault.
US threatens ICC
On Friday, the US announced that it would revoke or deny visas to “individuals directly responsible for any [International Criminal Court] investigation of US personnel,” in addition to those investigating Israel.
In November 2017 the chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court initiated an investigation into alleged war crimes and crimes against humanity in Afghanistan since May 2003.
“If you are responsible for the proposed ICC investigation of US personnel in connection with the situation in Afghanistan, you should not assume that you still have or will get a visa or will be permitted to enter the United States,” US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said on Friday.
Associated Press reporter Matthew Lee noted that Pompeo’s comment “suggested that action may have already been taken against the ICC prosecutor.”