Three rockets were fired into Israel from Gaza on Thursday morning, one of them landing close to a school in Netivot where classes were taking place, leaving a fragile ceasefire wobbling.
Netivot parents rushed to take their children home from schools in the town. Schools elsewhere in much of the south were already closed, and Beersheba announced that schools will not reopen on Friday, either.
Hamas sources in Gaza were blaming Islamic Jihad for the violations. Israel Radio said Hamas officials claimed that parts of the Islamic Jihad leadership were not heeding the ceasefire terms, even though Islamic Jihad had publicly agreed to be bound by the ceasefire and denied responsibility for the latest rocket fire.
One senior Hamas leader, Mousa Abu Marzook, was quoted on the radio defending the ceasefire, and saying that Gaza could not sustain another war at present. Nonetheless, he said, Hamas was continuing to train and arm, and would never abandon its “resistance.”
Another Hamas leader, Mahmoud al-Zahar, warned that Hamas would respond to any further Israeli targeted killings.
Al-Zahar claimed that, according to the terms of the ceasefire understandings, Israel had pledged not to carry out further such strikes — which Israel has denied. Al-Zahar, who has been visiting Tehran, asserted that Israel had sought a ceasefire because the Iron Dome missile defense system missed most of the rockets fired from Gaza. Iron Dome has intercepted some 90 percent of incoming fire aimed at residential areas, Israeli officials said.
The IDF’s Southern Command Staff head Brig. Gen. Roi Elkovich said early Thursday that he thought the truce, though shaky, would hold, and that the rockets fired on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday — after the ceasefire went into effect — were the work of isolated terror cells. Still, Elkovich said, the army was ready with various potential avenues for action should they be required.
The Iron Dome anti-missile system shot down a rocket fired at Beersheba late Thursday morning and a Grad rocket was fired at the southern town of Netivot earlier in the day, hours after the Israel Air Force struck a rocket launching site in Gaza. A Kassam rocket also landed in the Sdot Hanegev region. Two Grad rockets were fired at Beersheba Wednesday night.
The Netivot rocket landed in an open area, but just a few meters from a school where classes were taking place. There were no reports of injuries or damage. Most Netivot parents took their children home from schools in the town after the incident.
Netivot, which is within seven kilometers of the Gaza Strip, has schools equipped with bunkers, as do other towns within the “Gaza envelope.” Most schools in the range of 7-40 kilometers from Gaza were closed on Thursday.
Speaking from Seoul, Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman said Iran was behind Islamic Jihad’s rocket salvos.
Lieberman, who met with South Korean counterpart Kim Sung-hwan, also called on the world to use lessons learned in North Korea, which recently agreed to pull back its nuclear program, on Iran.
Moshe Ya’alon, Israel’s deputy prime minister, said the situation in the south was “unacceptable” and would necessitate a firmer response. He too blamed Iran for instigating the rocket salvos.
The IDF held a drill Wednesday simulating rocket fire on Israel’s central metropolis. Terrorist organizations in Gaza are believed to possess long-range rockets that can reach Tel Aviv, not utilized in the recent round of attacks.
In total, more than 300 rockets have been fired from Gaza towards Israel in the latest round of violence. The IAF has completed some 20 airstrikes against terrorist rocket launching cells.The Iron Dome missile defense system has shot down some 60 rockets in a little more than 70 attempts.
The rocket escalation began last Friday after the Israeli 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.
The IDF’s Chief of Staff Benny Gantz said on Tuesday that there was a “strategic” necessity to thwart al-Qaissi’s next planned infiltration from the Egyptian Sinai into Israel — an apparent indication that the IDF feared a major infiltration, possibly including attempts to kidnap Israelis and potentially further complicating Israel’s relations with Egypt.