Rocket hits car in Ashdod; sirens heard near Rehovot

Rocket hits car in Ashdod; sirens heard near Rehovot

Beersheba, Ashkelon and Gedera targeted on fourth day of conflict. Three terrorists and 16-year-old boy killed in Gaza; Israeli leaders say no ground offensive in offing

A rocket hit a car in Ashdod and another fell near Gedera Monday afternoon, the latest in a series of over 30 rockets to be fired at southern Israel from Gaza since morning.

Seven people in Ashdod were treated for shock; the rocket caused damage to a building and several cars.

The Red Alert siren was heard in Rehovot as well and an explosion was heard in the area, the farthest north the rockets have reached since hostilities began Friday.

Earlier Monday afternoon, three rockets were fired at Beersheba, with two being shot down by the Iron Dome anti-missile system and one landing in an open area. No injuries or damage were reported.

Rockets were also reported in the area of the Sha’ar Henegev regional council and near Gedera.

Airstrikes targeting rocket-launching operations killed two terrorists in the Gaza Strip Monday morning, as fighting continued into its fourth day amid calls for a ceasefire. A father and his daughter were killed in Gaza’s Beit Lahiya district early on Monday afternoon, Palestinian officials said.

The Israeli military said it carried out nine air attacks against rocket-launching sites and a weapons storage facility early Monday. Islamic Jihad said two of its terrorists were killed in two separate raids, one while on a motorcycle. A 16-year-old boy wearing a school uniform was killed when a group of five civilians was struck in another attack, Gaza health official Adham Abu Salmia said.

Another strike in Gaza City wounded some two dozen people, including several children, health officials said. Israeli military sources said the air strike had targeted an ammunition store on the ground floor of a residential building; Palestinian sources said the strike had been aimed at the commander of a network of missile-firing cells.

Six rockets were fired toward Ashdod in mid-morning — five of them intercepted by the Iron Dome anti-missile system, and the sixth falling on open ground. Two missiles landed north of Beersheba, and there were alerts in Ashkelon. In late morning, two more rockets were fired at Gan Yavneh.

Three mortar bombs fired from Gaza fell short and damaged two trucks carrying equipment on the Palestinian side of the Karnei border crossing with Israel, Yedioth Ahronoth reported. Operations at the crossing, a major conduit of supplies into Gaza from Israel, were suspended but later resumed. The other main crossing into Gaza, the Erez Crossing, has also remained in operation during the hostilities, according to the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories.

While the fighting has raged on, top Israel officials have made clear that they do not intend for the conflagration to expand beyond air strikes into a ground war. Nonetheless, Deputy Prime Minister Moshe Ya’alon told Israel Radio that the possibility of a ground offensive did exist. He said Israel would keep targeting terrorists and their infrastructure in Gaza until terror groups internalized that it was not in their interests to fire at Israel.

Both Ya’alon and Defense Minister Ehud Barak said that if Hamas put an end to the rocket attacks and restored quiet from Gaza, then Israel would maintain quiet as well.

Hamas had not directly entered the fighting as of Monday afternoon, and has been criticized by Islamic Jihad for its failure to do so. A Hamas spokesman said on Monday morning that Hamas was in fact “very active” in numerous ways. Hamas has Fajr missiles that can reach as far as Tel Aviv, Israeli officials have said, but has thus far chosen not to use them.

The Palestinian Authority urged the United Nations to condemn Israel’s “war crimes”; Israel on Sunday had urged the UN to condemn the rocket attacks.

The violence, touched off by Israel’s killing of a top terrorist leader on Friday, has been the worst exchange of fire between Israel and the Hamas-ruled territory in months. The fighting has killed 20 Gazans, including 18 terrorists, seriously wounded two Israelis, and disrupted the lives of 1 million Israelis living in Gaza rocket range.

Israel Radio also reported that a teenager killed in an Israeli airstrike on Saturday had been standing next to a launching site, according to the IDF.

An Israeli soldier examines a house hit by a mortar shell on Saturday (photo credit: Tsafrir Abayov/Flash90)
An Israeli soldier examines a house hit by a mortar shell on Saturday (photo credit: Tsafrir Abayov/Flash90)

The military said the air attacks came in response to continued rocket fire.  Israeli police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld reported that schools in the area were closed for a second day to avoid casualties; a day earlier, a rocket struck the courtyard of one of the empty schools in Beersheba. About a million Israelis are in range of the Gaza missiles

But although the violence shows no immediate signs of subsiding, both Hamas and Israel seem eager to avoid the kind of all-out war that erupted three years ago.

In keeping with its practice since that conflict, Hamas has stayed out of the current clashes, for fear of provoking a harsh Israeli retaliation. But it has not stopped other, smaller Gaza factions from attacking Israel, and Israel continues to hold it ultimately responsible for any violence emanating from Gaza.

In the past, similar flare-ups have died out by themselves or with informal cease-fires negotiated by third parties, often Egypt.

In this case, too, Egypt has been trying to mediate an end to the clashes, and Hamas has also appealed to other Mideast countries to join the truce attempts. But so far efforts have failed, with terrorists insisting that Israel first halt its airstrikes.

Israel’s chief military spokesman, Brig. Gen. Yoav Mordechai, told Israel Radio that Israel would halt its raids if the rocket fire would cease, but added that the Israeli military would continue to take pre-emptive action to foil Palestinian attack plans.

The rocket escalation began Friday after the Israel Air Force carried out a targeted assassination against terror leader Zuhair al-Qaissi.

The airstrike on a car in Gaza City killed al-Qaissi, the head of Gaza’s Popular Resistance Committees, and two of his underlings. It was the highest-profile killing Israel has carried out in many months.

Al-Qaissi oversaw the infiltration of terrorists from the Sinai into Israel north of Eilat last August in which eight Israelis were killed, and was planning another major infiltration attack in the coming days, military sources said. Hence, they said, the decision to target him in his car on Friday.

Al-Qaissi’s Hamas-linked PRC was also behind the kidnapping of Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit, who was held captive in Gaza for more than five years and freed in a prisoner swap last year in exchange for more than 1,000 Palestinians.

On a visit to southern Israel on Sunday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu vowed the airstrikes would continue as long as necessary. “We have a clear policy: we will hit anyone who plans to harm us, who prepares to harm us and who harms us.”

Mordechai, the military spokesman, said Monday that Israel was prepared for a ground offensive if necessary. He also said Israeli military chief Lt. Gen. Benny Gantz has postponed a trip this week to the U.S. because of the fighting.

Minister of Science and Technology Daniel Hershkowitz reiterated Israel’s determination to protect southern communities, including taking offensive action.

“Southern communities face multiple threats and they cannot live under the threat of rocket fire,” Hershkowitz said according to Army radio. “If there is a ticking bomb, as in the case of al-Qaissi then we will deal with it in the best and most efficient way.”

Hamas spokesman Mushir al-Masri made it clear that every action by Israel will be met by a response from the Palestinian side.

“The IDF is on one side, and the Palestinian factions on the other,” he said, reported Army Radio. “As long as there is aggression from the Zionist enemy resistance is the answer.”

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