Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his ministers were holding an emergency cabinet meeting early Thursday afternoon at the Kirya military base in Tel Aviv to discuss the situation in the south, after terrorists hit Israel a day earlier with the largest barrage of rockets since 2012.
Early Thursday morning, the IDF reported that two additional rockets were fired from Gaza but landed in open areas within the strip. Later in the morning, alert sirens sounded in coastal cities of Ashdod and Ashkelon as rockets were fired from the Strip. The Iron Dome system downed one of the rockets over Ashkelon, while two others fell in unpopulated areas.
Netanyahu vowed to respond forcefully to further strikes. “There are no free shots, and terrorist elements in the Gaza Strip should start internalizing the fact that they are dealing with a very determined government and a very strong army,” Netanyahu said Thursday morning.
He also noted that Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas did not condemn the rocket fire from Gaza but rather only the Israeli response. Netanyahu added that in order to move toward peace, the PA must be unequivocal in condemning terror.
“Our policy in the south is clear, he said. “We will strike at anyone who tries to attack us and will respond very forcefully to any attack. I would like to make it clear that whoever tries to attack our Purim celebrations we will hit them strongly. We did not achieve the greatest quiet in the south in recent years for nothing; this is our policy.”
On Wednesday night, Economy Minister Naftali Bennett (Jewish Home) visited a family in the embattled city of Sderot near the Gaza border.
“The IDF is responding [to the rocket fire from Gaza] intensely now,” he said in a statement posted to Facebook. “If there is no quiet for the Abutbol family, there will be no quiet in Gaza,” he added, echoing a statement made earlier by Netanyahu.
Two rockets fired from Gaza landed in the Eshkol Region overnight after the Israel Air Force launched airstrikes on 29 targets in the Gaza Strip Wednesday night in retaliation for over 50 rockets and mortar shells that were fired into Israel earlier that evening.
Israeli military sources said after the late-night retaliatory strikes that Israel would now wait to see how Hamas and Islamic Jihad responded. If there were no further rocket attacks on Israel, the flare-up would be over. But if there was more rocket fire, Israel would again respond.
Palestinians said at least five strategic points were hit in the coastal enclave, primarily in areas around the cities of Khan Younis and Rafah.
Environmental Protection Minister Amir Peretz (Hatnua), himself a resident of Sderot, told Israel Radio that Hamas must be held accountable even for the actions of other terrorist groups.
“Hamas can impose its authority [if it wants], but instead it allows more radical elements to ignite the region,” he said, adding that Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman’s call for a reoccupation of Gaza was not the answer.
Liberman told Channel 2 Wednesday night that the IDF was prepared to take immediate action in order to eradicate the threat of rocket fire from the Strip.
“There is no way to avert a full occupation of the Gaza Strip; only then can we ensure that these images do not recur,” the foreign minister said. “We cannot ignore such an attack, a barrage of 50 rockets and mortar shells.”
Deputy Minister of Defense Danny Danon (Likud) agreed with Peretz that it was too early to start talking about occupation, despite the fact that he found the prospect “enticing.” He added, however, that “if the IDF said that it was the only way to ensure peace in the south, the political leadership would discuss the matter, but there is no quick-fix solution” to the problem.
Meretz Chairwoman Zahava Gal-on took to Facebook Thursday morning to express solidarity with residents of the south and to take Liberman to task for his suggestion.
“Tell me, Mr. Foreign Minister, have you lost your mind?” she wrote. “Do you want to give Islamic Jihad the biggest prize they could have hoped for and to the residents of the south the greatest punishment that could befall them?
“I am sure that you don’t particularly care about the thousands of Palestinians who would be killed in this invasion, and it’s also not clear how many Israeli casualties you are ready to absorb in order to fulfill this apocalyptic fantasy. A hundred? Two hundred? Five hundred? How many military funerals are you prepared to attend?”
Gal-on went on to question how occupying Gaza jelled with Liberman’s previous suggestions that Israel completely cut itself off from the Strip and employ population exchanges in order to make a peace agreement viable.
“I have a simple suggestion,” she added. “If the foreign minister misses Gaza so much, he is welcome to pack his bags and move there himself, without taking with him half of the IDF and without putting the lives of southern residents in danger.”