World

Israel and Hamas de-escalate tension after rockets are fired at Tel Aviv

A Palestinian man walks past a crater on the ground following an Israeli air strike targeting a site belonging to Gaza's Islamist rulers Hamas, in Khan Yunis in the southern Gaza Strip March 15, 2019. - Israel said its aircraft struck dozens of Hamas targets in the Gaza Strip overnight in response to rockets from the Palestinian enclave, including rare fire toward its economic capital Tel Aviv. The escalation follows weeks of growing tension and comes at an especially sensitive time ahead of Israel's April 9 elections. (Photo by SAID KHATIB / AFP)SAID KHATIB/AFP/Getty Images
Said Khatib/AFP/Getty Images
A Palestinian man walked past a crater on the ground following an Israeli air strike targeting a site belonging to Gaza's Islamist rulers Hamas, in Khan Yunis in the southern Gaza Strip March 15, 2019.

JERUSALEM — Israel and Hamas on Friday worked quickly to deescalate after a rare instance of rocket fire from Gaza launched against Tel Aviv the night before.

The events underscored that neither side appears to want a broader clash right now, and at the same time, the ever-present chance of a miscalculation setting off the next war.

Thursday night, rockets from Gaza that headed for Tel Aviv seemed to come out of the blue, then disappear almost without a trace. Israel blamed Hamas, which controls Gaza, and retaliated swiftly, with strikes at what it said were Hamas military sites and compounds throughout Gaza.

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Hamas denied responsibility for the attacks, but had nonetheless expected such a response and left the sites ahead of time.

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By Friday morning, Israeli military officials said that operatives had launched the rockets from a Hamas launcher “by mistake.” The officials would not elaborate.

About 10 hours after the flare-up began, a fragile calm appeared to have been restored.

Micky Rosenfeld, a spokesman for the Israel Police, said remains of one rocket was found Friday in an open area south of Tel Aviv.

There were no details about the other rocket, which could have fallen into the sea or exploded midair.

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Herzog said the Israeli military’s claim of a mistaken launch was reasonable since Hamas did not usually start off a round of hostilities by firing directly at Tel Aviv.

In what appeared to be a further effort to tamp down tensions, Hamas and the other militant factions in Gaza announced Friday morning that they were canceling that afternoon’s protest along the fence that divides the Palestinian territory from Israel.

The organizing committee described the postponement — the first in almost a year — as an “exceptional” move in the “public interest” as they prepare for what they hope will be a million-strong demonstration on March 30, the anniversary of the start of the often-violent protests, in which scores of Palestinians have been killed by Israeli fire.

“We confirm to our people that the protests will continue,” the committee said in a statement.

The anniversary event could prove explosive, coming days before Israeli elections scheduled for April 9.