Israel, Hamas ready to escalate as Gaza terror mounts
More than 70 rockets hit Israel over weekend, wounding four civilians and shutting down schools • RPG from Gaza wounds four Israeli soldiers on patrol Saturday • One soldier in critical condition • Hamas acknowledges taking part in rocket fire.
Lilach Shoval, Gadi Golan, Shlomo Cesana, Daniel Siryoti, News Agencies and Israel Hayom Staff
Gaza terrorists launched a rocket into Israel on Sunday that scored a direct hit on a factory in the Sderot area, in the second consecutive day of violence in the south. No injuries were reported, but the factory sustained some damage.
Earlier Sunday, three civilians were wounded by rocket debris. Two of them were hurt while in their cars in the Shaar Hanegev area near the Israel-Gaza border, and another was wounded in Sderot while children were making their way to school. One additional man was treated for shock. Three of the victims remain hospitalized.
The latest attacks follow more than 70 rockets that were fired into Israel from the Gaza Strip since Saturday.
In what appears to have set off the current round of violence, Palestinian militants fired an anti-tank missile at an Israeli jeep patrolling the border with Gaza on Saturday. The IDF said four soldiers were wounded in the missile attack. One of the soldiers remained in critical condition at Soroka Hospital in Beersheba on Sunday. The other three suffered moderate to light injuries.
The military wing of the leftist Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine took responsibility for the jeep attack, but it still remains unclear who in fact was behind the attack. The PFLP often takes credit for attacks that later turn out to be the work of Hamas or Islamic Jihad militants.
In response to the Gaza violence, the IDF launched a series of counter-attacks, killing at least six people and wounding several more, according to Reuters. On Sunday, an Israeli air strike killed a Palestinian terrorist in Gaza, with the Islamic Jihad identifying the dead man as one of its own. The group said he was a member of a rocket crew hit by an Israeli missile in Jabalya, northern Gaza.
The Israeli military confirmed carrying out an air strike in the area. Earlier, the IDF said its aircraft struck a weapons manufacturing facility, three weapon storage facilities and two rocket launching sites in Gaza overnight.
Islamic Jihad also said it had fired at least 70 short-range rockets and mortar bombs across the border since Saturday, salvos which drove Israeli residents to their bomb shelters.
Hamas' military wing, the Izzedine al-Qassam Brigades, also acknowledged taking part in the rocket fire in a text message to reporters on Sunday.
Israel described the jeep ambush on Saturday as part of a Palestinian strategy of trying to curb its countermeasures against possible cross-border infiltration. Israeli forces often mount hunts for tunnels and landmines on the inside of the Gaza boundary, creating a no-go zone for Palestinians.
Palestinians said four of Saturday's dead were civilians hit by an Israeli tank shell while paying respects at a crowded mourning tent in Gaza's Shijaia neighborhood. Israel denies targeting civilians. Ashraf al-Kidra, a Gaza Health Ministry spokesman, said the four Palestinians were between the ages of 16 and 18 and that among the 25 wounded were some children.
The bloodshed puts internal pressure on Hamas, which, though hostile to the Jewish state, has sat out some of the recent rounds of violence as it tried to consolidate its Gaza rule and reach out to neighboring Egypt and other foreign powers.
Israel blames Hamas for any attacks emanating from Gaza, but has shown little appetite for a major sweep of the territory which might strain its own fraught ties to the new Islamist-rooted government in Cairo.
Both sides threatened retaliation over the weekend, and previous such incidents have unfolded into days of Palestinian rocket attacks and retaliatory Israeli strikes.
Later in the day and on Saturday night, some 35 Palestinian rockets rained on southern Israel, though they caused no injuries or damage, the military said. It said at least one of the projectiles was intercepted by the "Iron Dome" missile defense system. The military informed residents to be within 15-seconds running distance from shelter in case of further rocket attacks.
The rocket attacks led officials in Gan Yavneh, east of Ashdod, to declare school closed on Sunday. Ashkelon, Ashdod and other cities in the south followed suit as rocket fire intensified. Parents were instructed to come pick up their children and stay close to bomb shelters.
Witnesses said that following the large explosion that started the incident, Israel retaliated to the attack on the jeep with tank and machine gun fire toward targets near al-Muntar hill in the central part of the territory.
Rami Harra said his 17-year-old brother Muhammad Harra had been killed in the strike.
Israel carried out a broad military offensive in Gaza nearly four years ago in response to years of near daily rocket fire. Major salvos from Gaza have subsided since then, but sporadic rocket fire has continued.
The territory is home to numerous militant groups, including murky al-Qaida-inspired organizations that do not answer to Hamas. Gaza has also been flooded with weapons in recent years, many of them believed to have been smuggled from northern Africa and into Gaza through tunnels under the Egyptian border.
For how long must we suffer?
Years have gone by since we retreated from Gaza creating a Jew free zone and we are paid back by years of rockets fire into civilian towns.
When will enough be enough, and we put an end to the threat, that is the Palestinians.