Fighter jets dispatched three times following suspicious activity in Gaza

Israeli fighter jets were sent to fly over the Gaza Strip on Saturday after suspicious activity was detected in the Palestinian enclave.

The aircraft were dispatched three times, according to the Kan public broadcaster, but nothing out of the ordinary was found.

It was not clear what the suspicious activity was.

Also Saturday, the military said Israeli troops arrested two suspects who crossed the border fence in southern Gaza into Israel.

The two were unarmed and taken in for questioning, the Israel Defense Forces said.

The incidents came a day after weekly border protests resumed after a three-week hiatus. The temporary break in the weekly protests followed a large-scale battle last month between the IDF and Palestinian Islamic Jihad, the second largest terror group in Gaza.

Some 4,000 Palestinians took part in the protests, with several hundred rioting and throwing rocks and explosive devices at IDF troops, who responded with tear gas and occasional live fire.

The Hamas-run Gaza health ministry said 27 Palestinians were injured.

Despite the resumption of the violent protests, IDF Chief of Staff Aviv Kohavi said earlier Friday that Israel had a “special opportunity” to reach a long-term ceasefire with terror groups in Gaza.

The army chief made his remarks during a meeting with the mayors of Gaza-adjacent communities, in which he updated them on the security situation in the area.

During the meeting, Kohavi indicated that Israel believed it could negotiate an oft-discussed long-term ceasefire agreement with the Hamas terror group, which is the de facto ruler of the Gaza Strip. The army chief said this is due to the success of the IDF’s recent two-day battle with the Islamic Jihad, an operation that was dubbed “Black Belt.” Unlike in previous rounds of fighting, the Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades, Hamas’s armed wing, stayed on the sidelines.

On Thursday, Hamas’s deputy chief in Gaza, Khalil al-Hayya, denied that the terror group was approaching a long-term ceasefire deal with Israel.

For over a year Hamas has negotiated a series of unofficial ceasefire understandings with Israel.

The understandings have largely entailed Israel lifting restrictions on the movement of goods and people into and out of Gaza in exchange for Hamas and other terror groups in the coastal enclave maintaining relative quiet in the border region.

However, the informal agreements have not put an end to cross-border violence, as both Israel and terror groups in Gaza have recently participated in several short flareups.

During the fighting last month, the Islamic Jihad fired some 450 rockets and mortars at the Jewish state, which responded with many retaliatory strikes in Gaza, killing 34 Palestinians, more than half of them members of terror groups.

Since March 2018, Palestinians in Gaza have participated in the protests along the frontier on most Fridays, demanding Israel lift its restrictions on the movement of people and goods into and out of the coastal enclave and calling for the return of Palestinian refugees and their descendants to lands that are now a part of the Jewish state.

The protests have included frequent rioting with rocks, explosives and fire bombs hurled at IDF soldiers who respond with tear gas and live fire. At least 200 Palestinians have been killed, according to the health ministry.

Israeli officials maintain that the restrictions on movement are in place to prevent Hamas and other terrorist groups from smuggling weapons into the Strip. They also say that the return of Palestinian refugees and their descendants would destroy Israel’s Jewish character.

Judah Ari Gross contributed to this report.

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