The Israeli army says its warplanes struck "several" targets in the Gaza Strip as a fragile truce with the territory's Hamas leaders appeared to falter. The UN says Israeli attacks on Gaza could be a crime against humanity.

Israeli warplanes strike Hassona apartment block in Rimal district in Gaza. March 26, 2019.
Israeli warplanes strike Hassona apartment block in Rimal district in Gaza. March 26, 2019. (AA)

The Israeli military said late on Tuesday that its warplanes struck "several" targets belonging to Palestinian resistance group Hamas in the Gaza Strip.

A total of 500 houses in the Gaza Strip were damaged by the latest Israeli airstrikes, Palestine's public works minister said.

"In Israeli airstrikes against Gaza, 30 houses were completely destroyed and 500 houses were damaged," Mufeed al Hasayneh said in a statement.

After meeting Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu upon his return from Washington on Tuesday, Israel's military chief Lieutenant General Aviv Kohavi ordered an additional troop buildup along the border.

The sudden burst of late-night fighting ended a daylong lull that had raised hopes of a cease-fire taking hold.

The UN's special coordinator for the Middle East peace process said earlier on Tuesday the violence in Gaza could lead to devastating consequences.

"I am concerned that we may, once again, be facing another very dangerous escalation of violence in Gaza, with potentially catastrophic consequences," Nickolay Mladenov told the UN Security Council. "The last two days show how precariously close we came to the brink of war once again.”

Mladenov, who also serves as the UN Secretary-General's personal representative to the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) and the Palestinian Authority, said the firing of rockets by Israel violates international law and it must stop.

Rockets vs air strikes

The Israeli military launched a wave of air strikes on Monday across the Gaza Strip following rocket fire from the enclave that injured seven Israelis north of Tel Aviv.

The army reportedly deployed missile-defence batteries in several locations across the country while sending two additional infantry brigades to the Gaza-Israel buffer zone.

Hamas announced late Monday that Egypt managed to secure a cease-fire between Israel and Gaza-based resistance factions.

While there was no comment from Egypt, several Israeli officials denied any cease-fire deal with Gaza-based factions.

Mladenov urged all Palestinian factions to work with Egypt in order to implement the 2017 Cairo agreement, which, if enacted, would give the Palestinian Authority control over the Gaza Strip in exchange for an end to the sanctions placed on the Strip, which includes cuts to electricity.

Hamas has governed the Gaza Strip since 2007, after Fatah ceded the territory.

Mladenov further shared his concerns over the lack of progress on the two-state solution between Israel and Palestine, which is in line with UN resolutions.

"There is no viable alternative to the two state solution," he said. "Creating conditions for the parties to return to meaningful negotiations remains critical."

Tense quiet after night of fire

A tense quiet took hold on Tuesday morning after a night of heavy fire as Israeli aircraft bombed Gaza in what the military said was a response to a rocket attack from Gaza.

The escalation threatened to devolve into a major conflict, just two weeks before the Israeli election.

An Israeli house was hit by a rocket early Monday and seven people were wounded. Gaza's Health Ministry said seven Palestinians were wounded by the air strikes.

Overnight, Israel targeted a building in Gaza City that it said had served as a Hamas military intelligence headquarters and the office of Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh. 

The exchange continued into the early hours of Tuesday before the strikes ceased.

Tuesday night's air strikes by Israel came after a lone rocket attack. The military said it hit a Hamas military compound and a weapons manufacturing warehouse in southern Gaza. Militants responded by firing another rocket. Israel said both projectiles landed harmlessly in open areas.

TRT World's Liz Maddock has more.

Schools in southern Israel were cancelled on Tuesday and the military imposed restrictions on public gatherings near the Gaza border.

TRT World's Abubakr Al Shamahi  reports from Gaza.

Netanyahu faces tough election

Monday's attack on Gaza prompted Netanyahu to cut short a visit to Washington and return to Israel.

The prime minister is facing corruption charges and goes into the election a damaged candidate. He has promised harsh action, setting the stage for perhaps the most serious conflict since a war in 2014.

But with no fatalities reported on either side yet, and the quiet holding for the moment, it still seems possible to step back from the brink once again.

Israel and Hamas have fought three wars in the last decade.

Although neither side appears to have an interest in another war, fighting could easily spin out of control.

The 2014 conflict lasted 50 days and ended with over 2,000 Palestinian deaths, including hundreds of civilians, and 73 killed on the Israeli side.

Netanyahu faces the difficult task of delivering a tough blow to Hamas while avoiding protracted fighting that could work against him on election day.

He has conducted indirect ceasefire talks through Egyptian mediators in recent months, and even allowed the delivery of millions of dollars of Qatari aid to Hamas to ease harsh conditions in Gaza.

Hamas under pressure

Hamas is facing perhaps its toughest domestic test since taking control of Gaza from the rival Palestinian Authority 12 years ago.

An Israel-Egyptian blockade, imposed to weaken Hamas, combined with sanctions by the Palestinian Authority and mismanagement by the Hamas government, have all fueled an economic crisis that has left Gaza with an unemployment rate above 50 percent.

Hamas has been leading weekly protests along the Israeli border for the past year in hopes of easing the blockade. Israeli forces have killed over 200 protesters in what the UN says could be crimes against humanity.

Source: TRTWorld and agencies