Iron Dome intercepts 8 missiles in pre-dawn assault; military responds with 2 waves of airstrikes; in earlier attack, 2 hurt from rocket fire as Israel signs historic accords in DC
Palestinian terrorists in the Gaza Strip fired 13 rockets into southern Israel before dawn on Wednesday, with eight of them intercepted by the Iron Dome system, the Israel Defense Forces said. The spike in violence apparently came in response to Israel signing peace deals with the UAE and Bahrain.
The projectiles were fired over the course of half an hour as the Israeli Air Force launched two waves of strikes on Hamas targets across Gaza, the first in response to an earlier attack that injured two people and the second in response to the 13-rocket barrage. The airstrikes hit upwards of 10 Hamas facilities, including weapons factories and underground infrastructure.
The attacks from the Strip triggered sirens at least five times over a half-hour period — from roughly 4:30 a.m. to 5 a.m. — in the town of Sderot and communities in the Eshkol and Sha’ar Hanegev regions in southern Israel early Wednesday. The IDF said several barrages were fired, totaling 13 rockets. Soldiers operating the Iron Dome missile defense system intercepted eight of the incoming projectiles, the military said.
It was not immediately clear where the other five rockets struck. There were no immediate reports of injury or damage, indicating they likely hit empty fields.
Despite the overnight rocket attacks, schools opened as usual for students in Israeli communities surrounding the Gaza Strip, local officials said.
No Palestinian terror group took responsibility for the rocket attacks, though both Hamas and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad put out statements in support of them, indicating that — if nothing else — they’d given their tacit approval for the launches.
Witnesses reported a series of loud explosions and videos showed Iron Dome interceptors streaking up to destroy incoming rockets.
The rocket fire represented the first attacks since an unofficial ceasefire agreement was reached between Israel and terror groups in the Strip late last month and the largest barrage since Februarywhen the Palestinian Islamic Jihad terror group fired dozens of rockets at Israel after Israeli troops shot dead a group member as he planted a bomb along the border, retrieving his body using a bulldozer.
Israeli aircraft conducted two rounds of strikes in the Gaza Strip before dawn Wednesday, the army said.
The initial raid came in response to an attack on Tuesday night in which two rockets were fired from the Gaza Strip at Israel, one of which struck the city of Ashdod, injuring two people.
The IDF said war planes and attack helicopters hit some 10 targets across Gaza, including an armaments workshop and a Hamas training base used for rocket testing.
The second round of retaliatory strike came a short time later, in response to the 13-rocket fusillade aimed at Sderot, Kissufim, Nirim, Ein Hashlosha, Mefalsim, Reim, Nir Am, Ibim, Gavim, and Nir Moshe.
The IDF said fighter jets and other aircraft took part in the assault, striking an unspecified number of Hamas targets, including “underground infrastructure.”
The army said it holds Hamas, the de factor ruler of Gaza, responsible for any violence emanating from the Strip.
On Tuesday night the rockets triggered sirens in the cities of Ashkelon and Ashdod, potentially sending hundreds of thousands of residents rushing to bomb shelters just as the country’s leader was signing historic accords with two Gulf states, vociferously opposed by the Palestinians.
According to the Israel Defense Forces, soldiers operating the Iron Dome missile defense system intercepted one of the incoming projectiles.
The second rocket struck a street in Ashdod, lightly damaging it and nearby storefronts and knocking down a tree.
Later on Tuesday night, IDF troops caught two Palestinian men who entered Israel from the southern Gaza Strip. It was not immediately clear if they were armed. “The suspects are being interrogated at the scene,” the military said.
Security camera footage from the scene showed the moment of impact in Ashdod, as the rocket exploded as it slammed into the street.
The Magen David Adom ambulance service said one man, 62, was moderately injured, sustaining shrapnel wounds to his upper body from the rocket. The second man, 28, suffered light injuries to his extremities from broken glass. Four other people suffered anxiety attacks as a result of the apparent rocket fire, medics said.
The 62-year-old man was reportedly delivering food to needy families when he was hit by the shrapnel.
The two men were taken to Ashdod’s Assuta Medical Center for treatment, MDA said.
Police sappers were called to the rocket impact site in Ashdod. “Police forces have closed off the area and at this stage are carrying out their mission to remove the risk from the area. Police sappers are dealing with the rocket and its parts professionally in order to prevent injury and to allow normal life to return,” police said.
The rocket attacks on Ashkelon and Ashdod came as a signing ceremony was taking place in Washington to mark the establishment of formal ties between Israel and the United Arab Emirates and between Israel and Bahrain.
“On this historic night of peace, we received a reminder from our enemies that we must always be strong and prepared to defend Israeli citizens on all fronts and at all times — and this we will do,” Defense Minister Benny Gantz said in response to the attack.
Terror groups in the Strip have in the past attempted to interrupt major Israeli festivities with attacks. Indeed, television footage of the signing ceremony on Tuesday night was accompanied by information from the IDF Home Front Command about the areas where rocket sirens were triggered.
Gaza Palestinians rallied against the deal earlier in the day, burning pictures of the leaders of all four countries and their flags.
Qatar, Egypt and the United Nations brokered an unofficial ceasefire agreement between Israel and terror groups in the Strip last month, following weeks of heightened tensions between the two sides.
By : JUDAH ARI GROSS – THE TIMES OF ISRAEL