Iron Dome intercepts Gaza rocket over Ashkelon
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Missile defense system thwarts rocket for first time since last summer's war

Iron Dome intercepts Gaza rocket over Ashkelon

Attack comes hours after home and bus are damaged by rocket in Sderot; Salafist group in Gaza claims attack

Illustrative. An Iron Dome missile defense battery  fires an intercepting missile on July 13, 2014. (David Buimovitch/Flash90)
Illustrative. An Iron Dome missile defense battery fires an intercepting missile on July 13, 2014. (David Buimovitch/Flash90)

The Iron Dome missile defense system intercepted a rocket fired at the southern city of Ashkelon on Friday night, hours after a similar attack saw a rocket strike open land in a residential area of Sderot.

The interception was the first since last summer’s 50-day war between Israel and armed Palestinian groups in the Gaza Strip.

Local residents reported hearing loud explosions in the Ashkelon area shortly before midnight. There were no injuries reported in the attack. The Israel Defense Forces were investigating whether there were any other rocket strikes on Israeli soil, Channel 10 television reported.

Shortly afterwards there were unconfirmed reports of Israeli airstrikes on the Gaza Strip. Palestinian news outlets in the Gaza Strip reported Israeli flares over the northern area of the coastal territory.

Two Israeli soldiers stand near an Iron Dome battery near the southern Israeli city of Ashkelon on March 13, 2014. (photo credit:AFP/DAVID BUIMOVITCH)
Two Israeli soldiers stand near an Iron Dome battery near the southern Israeli city of Ashkelon on March 13, 2014. (photo credit:AFP/DAVID BUIMOVITCH)

There were no direct injuries reported in the Sderot strike, although there was some damage to property, and several people needed treatment for shock.

A Palestinian Salafist group affiliated with the Islamic State claimed responsibility for the Ashkelon rocket attack shortly after midnight. The Sheikh Omar Hadid Brigade has claimed a number of rocket attacks against Israel this year in defiance of Gaza’s Hamas rulers.

Israel Police said that a bus was damaged in the Sderot strike, while the Ynet website reported that a home was also damaged. The residents were inside at the time of the strike, Ynet said, adding that several people were treated at the scene for shock. One woman was taken to Barzilai Medical Center in Ashkelon after complaining of chest pains and ringing in her ears, the website reported.

The sirens sounded at around 8:45 p.m. Friday night in southern Israeli communities along the Gaza border, after Israeli defenses identified two rocket launches from the coastal strip.

Air raid sirens sounded in Sderot and nearby communities, Channel 10 television said. The Home Front Command confirmed the rocket launches and instructed local residents to enter their protected areas.

Residents of Sderot reported, however, that public bomb shelters, which ordinarily open automatically once sirens sound, didn’t unlock during Friday night’s incident.

Sderot municipality called Friday night for a strong Israeli response to the rocket fire.

“There is a pattern of activity designed to harm [local] inhabitants, in particular at sensitive times such as the holidays,” the city council said. “We have to exact a heavy price from Hamas and respond aggressively to the fire – and not just as a response.”

The rocket attacks followed a day of clashes in Jerusalem between Israeli security forces and Palestinian protesters.

The Islamist Hamas movement, which rules the Gaza Strip, had declared Friday to be a “Day of Rage” in response to days of violence on and around the Temple Mount — a site holy to Jews and Muslims that houses the al-Aqsa Mosque.

Israel had restricted entry to the Mount for Friday prayers earlier in the day, allowing only women and men over the age of 40 to pray there. Hundreds of Palestinians protested outside the Damascus Gate on Friday and three Border Police officers were wounded in an attack in the Jabel Mukaber neighborhood of Jerusalem.

Sderot and the surrounding area were battered by rockets during Israel’s 50-day war with Hamas last summer. The rocket strikes mostly tailed off after the conflict, although there has been sporadic fire in recent days as tensions flared in Jerusalem. Most recently, a rocket fired at Israel from Gaza early Wednesday fell short of the border and landed in the Palestinian coastal territory.

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