By Nidal al-Mughrabi and Rami Ayyub
GAZA/JERUSALEM (Reuters) – Gaza militants on Monday fired rockets toward Israel, which responded with air strikes, in the second day of an escalation that began to ebb after the Palestinian militant group Islamic Jihad announced a halt to its attacks.
Islamic Jihad has fired 80 rockets toward Israeli communities along the Gaza border since Sunday, an Israeli military spokeswoman said, while Israel has attacked sites in Gaza and Syria that killed three Islamic Jihad members.
The violence comes a week before an Israeli election in which Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is seeking a fifth term in office after two inconclusive votes.
Islamic Jihad said earlier on Monday it had ended its “military response” to Israel. But it then reversed course and resumed firing rockets, saying Israel had continued air strikes after the militants’ apparent de-escalation.
“We have carried out a response in order to stress our position: bombardment for bombardment,” said Abu Hamza, a spokesman for Islamic Jihad’s armed wing.
A Palestinian official later said that Israel and Islamic Jihad had reached a “reciprocal and simultaneous” ceasefire, brokered by Egypt and the United Nations and set to take effect at 23:30 (21:30 GMT).
The Israeli military said its jets truck an Islamic Jihad training and weapons storage facility in southern Gaza, as well as other underground infrastructure.
“Yesterday we attacked in Syria and in Gaza. We are continuing to strike now with jets, tanks and helicopters,” Netanyahu said in a statement on Twitter on Monday evening.
“We will continue to strike until quiet is restored,” Netanyahu added.
Israel’s defense ministry said it had closed all of its border crossings with the Gaza Strip, which it keeps under blockade citing security concerns, and closed the coastal enclave’s waters from fishing. Crossings would remain closed except for humanitarian cases, a statement said.
The latest fighting began around dawn on Sunday when Israeli troops killed an Islamic Jihad member who was trying to plant explosives near Israel’s border fence with the Gaza Strip.
Video widely shared on social media showed what appeared to be the lifeless body of the militant dangling from an Israeli military bulldozer as it removed the corpse.
The images created an uproar in Gaza, prompting calls for retaliation. Islamic Jihad later fired a barrage of rockets into Israel.
Just before midnight on Sunday, Israeli warplanes struck what the military called “a hub of Islamic Jihad’s activity in Syria” in the Adeliyah region outside Syria’s capital, Damascus.
Islamic Jihad continued to fire rockets into southern Israeli communities into Monday as funerals for the group’s two dead militants were held in the Yarmouk Palestinian refugee camp in Damascus.
The Gaza rocket fire sent residents of southern Israel running to shelters, and the Israeli military said it had closed down roads in the area as a precaution. No casualties were reported.
There was no sign that Gaza’s Islamist rulers Hamas had been drawn into the rocket firing.
An uneasy truce between Israel and Hamas has helped stave off the sort of large-scale fighting that led to Israel-Gaza wars in 2014 and 2008.
(Reporting by Nidal al-Mughrabi, Rami Ayyub and Maayan Lubell; Editing by Mark Heinrich, Hugh Lawson and Dan Grebler)