An IDF soldier stationed at the Gaza border was killed by a sniper from Gaza on Friday unleashing a blistering wave of air and artillery strikes by Israel that resulted in a ceasefire being reached on Saturday night.
The IDF soldier has been identified as Aviv Levi of the Givati Brigade. He was shot in the chest and died despite wearing a protective vest. He was weeks from his 21st birthday and three months from finishing his military service, according to the Jerusalem Post.
Levi’s death marks the first time Gaza terrorists have killed an IDF soldier since the 2014 Gaza War. The response from Israel was comparable to the violence seen in that war. All day Friday and into Saturday jets and tanks bombarded Hamas targets striking more than 60 locations, including three battalion headquarters, weapons depots, command and control centers and more. Four Palestinians were killed in the strike, three of whom were Hamas members.
Jpost also reported that Hamas has suffered “a severe blow” in Friday’s strikes and “had asked for a cease-fire through the Egyptians” and “had committed to stopping the incendiary terror and the terror along the fence.” The ceasefire was accepted by Israel and implemented it midnight Saturday.
The Hamas request for ceasefire comes as no surprise considering the damage to their infrastructure over the weekend. The additional commitment to stopping the incendiary attacks is notable. The credibility of the ceasefire is questionable, especially since another ceasefire implemented last weekend was violated just hours later. Additionally, many activities such as the launching of fire kites can occur outside of Hamas sanction.
It is unclear if the shooting of the IDF soldier was sanctioned by Hamas or not. Regardless of whether or not it was approved, such an action reportedly pushed even Egypt over the edge as one report claims they forced Hamas into ceasefire.
UN special coordinator for the Middle East peace process tweeted that “Everyone in Gaza needs to step back from the brink. Not next week. Not tomorrow. Right NOW! Those who want to provoke Palestinians and Israelis into another war must not succeed.”
Before the shooting, several hundred protesters gathered at the border as usual and five were wounded by Israeli live-fire. On Sunday, Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman told reporters “We saw, yesterday, what might have been the calmest day since March 30,” the day the Gaza border protests began.
To incentivize sticking to the truce, Israel said that if calm holds for two days straight they will reopen the Kerem Shalom border crossing for goods to enter Gaza and expand the fishing zone for Palestinians. Both sources of livelihood were closed or restricted by Israel earlier this month in response to incendiary balloons.
Reuters reported that during the closure, humanitarian aid was still allowed through; Lieberman said traffic slowed to about 140 trucks a day from some 1,000 to 1,100 trucks per day.
Israel Evacuates White Helmets from Syria
In a surprise Israeli humanitarian operation over the weekend over 400 members of Syria’s “White Helmet” civil defense group were evacuated over the border into Jordan evading the grip of the approaching Syrian Army.
Who are the White Helmets again?
The White Helmets are a group of Syrian aid workers who operate in rebel held territory performing aid work for civilians and rebels. They have been widely featured in western media including a Netflix documentary. Because they are connected to the rebel groups in Syria, such as the al-Qaeda affiliate, they are classified as enemies of the government forces.
Why were they evacuated?
A major Syrian government offensive over the last month has pushed rebel forces out of their southern strongholds to the edge of Syrian territory. Hundreds of civilians are fleeing to the Jordanian and Israeli borders as a new humanitarian crisis develops. The White Helmets operating in this area were evacuated by Israel in a clandestine operation arranged through the request and influence of several western powers. A total of 422 were evacuated into Jordan.
The IDF tweeted the success of the operation saying the White Helmets “‘faced an immediate threat to their lives in Syria. We rescued hundreds of them and their families. They passed through Israel and are now out of harm's way. We conducted this life-saving mission at the request of the US, Canada, and EU countries.”
The high profile of the White Helmets earned this story coverage in mainstream news outlets such as CNN and the BBC. This is far from the first humanitarian aid work conducted by Israel in Syria.
For months Israel has routinely sent aid supplies and medical personnel into Syria and treated Syrians who need urgent medical care. Israel still claims a role of non-interference in the Syrian Civil War, but also is determined to hold back Syrian-allied Iranian forces with strength.
Israel Passes Jewish Nation-State Law
The Israeli Knesset on Thursday passed a law effectively changing the state identity of Israel to officially be recognized as the home of the Jewish people, a move that sparked global controversy and has implications beyond Jewish recognition.
The law officially “defines Israel as the national homeland of the Jewish people” and asserts that "the realization of the right to national self-determination in Israel is unique to the Jewish people.”
That language is what has raised concerns from communities in Israel that are not Jewish such as the large Arab community and even the Druze community. The controversy of the law was also seen in the Knesset—it was by no means a landslide vote. Sixty-two lawmakers voted in favor of the legislation led by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's coalition and fifty-five opposed it.
Before the vote lawmakers suffered through long debates over many oppositions to individual clauses within the bill, according to Ha’aretz. Controversial bits include things such as making Hebrew the official sole state language and downgrading Arabic, calling Jerusalem the “united” capital and declaring that "the state sees the development of Jewish settlement as a national value and will act to encourage and promote its establishment and consolidation."
Moments after the law passed Netanyahu said “This is a defining moment - long live the State of Israel."
For many groups it is the language of Jewish exclusivity that worries them and that they say could result in the state-enforcement of Jewish laws.
Top Druze officials representing the Druze minority in Israel asked the Supreme Court to block the law, according to the Jerusalem Post. The Druze petition says the law is “a terrible blow to the Druze sector, a terrible blow to democracy and a terrible blow to Zionism. The Jewish nation-state law disproportionately and unreasonably harms” all minorities, turning them “into exiled people in their own homeland.”
Representing those who support the new law, Netanyahu said “with this law we determined the founding principle of our existence. Israel is the nation state of the Jewish people, and respects the rights of all of its citizens."
The bill that passed was quite different from what was initially presented as many of the most controversial clauses such as one allowing the state-sanctioned creation of Jewish-exclusive communities and another that sought to influence supreme court rulings were amended or removed.