After Gaza rockets fired at Tel Aviv, two ministers call to kill terror leaders

Bennett, Kahlon urge return to targeted killings of Hamas chiefs; Gantz and Lapid also urge forceful response; US envoy calls attack ‘outrageous’

Education Minister Naftali Bennett is seen during a ceremony at the President's Residence in Jerusalem on January 16, 2019. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Education Minister Naftali Bennett is seen during a ceremony at the President's Residence in Jerusalem on January 16, 2019. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Two senior cabinet ministers called for a return to the policy of targeted killings against Hamas terror group leaders, after two rockets were fired at Tel Aviv from the Gaza Strip Thursday evening by an unknown party.

Education Minister Naftali Bennett called on the government to task the army with preparing a plan to defeat Hamas, the de facto rulers of the Palestinian coastal enclave, and urged “a relentless pursuit and systematic wiping out of the Hamas leaders.”

Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon declared “no one should have immunity.”

The rockets, which caused air raid sirens to blare across the central coastal city and the surrounding area, exploded in open areas, causing no injuries or damage. It was not clear who launched the Fajr missiles. Both Hamas and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ ) terror groups denied responsibility.

Finance Minister and head of the Kulanu party Moshe Kahlon attends a press conference of the Kulanu party in Tel Aviv on February 13, 2019. (Flash90)

The Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades, the Hamas terror group’s military wing, said it was “not responsible for the rockets fired towards the enemy earlier tonight, especially considering they were shot off during a meeting between the Hamas leadership and the Egyptian security delegation about understandings pertaining to the Gaza Strip.”

Palestinian media reported that Hamas was evacuating military posts in Gaza in preparation for an Israeli response to the rockets.

A senior Israeli official told Channel 13 news that Israel indeed did not believe Hamas was behind the attack, but rather another “organization attempting to sabotage efforts to achieve calm in recent days.”

But Bennett said “It doesn’t matter who is behind the attack this evening, Hamas is responsible.” He criticized Israel’s current strategy of launching reprisal raids at Hamas infrastructure while striving to avoid any human casualties. “The time has come to defeat Hamas once and for all. No more shooting at dunes without hitting the enemy, but a relentless pursuit and systematic wiping out of Hamas leaders.”

Kahlon tweeted, “The incident this evening is very serious and there will be a response as necessary. No one has immunity. All the organizations in the Strip are terrorist organizations and that is how they should be treated.”

“I will support a return to the policy of targeted assassinations because in my view, there is no immunity for a person in the Hamas leadership or any other terror group.”

Illustrative: Flames from rockets fired by Palestinians are seen over Gaza Strip heading toward Israel, in the early morning of May 30, 2018. (AP Photo/Hatem Moussa)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was at Defense Ministry headquarters in Tel Aviv Thursday night to hold a “security consultation” and decide on a response.

Hamas seized control of the Gaza Strip from the West Bank-based Palestinian Authority in 2007. Israel holds the terror group, which seeks to destroy the Jewish state, responsible for all attacks from the territory, regardless of who carried them out.

Blue and White party chairman and former army chief of staff Benny Gantz said that “a significant and severe response” was required “otherwise it will be impossible to renew our deterrence.” Gantz, who is Netanyahu’s chief challenger ahead of the April 9 elections, has said he would consider restoring the targeted killing policy, if he becomes prime minister.

Benny Gantz, left, and Yair Lapid of the newly-formed Blue and White alliance give a joint a statement to the press in Tel Aviv on February 21, 2019. (Noam Revkin Fenton/Flash90)

His partner and number two in the party, Yair Lapid, tweeted: “Rockets fired at our citizens are an unacceptable act of aggression. No government would accept attacks like this and Israel is no different. We will not tolerate any breach of our sovereignty and have the absolute right to respond with force and protect the people of Israel.”

US President Donald Trump’s Mideast envoy Jason Greenblatt blamed Hamas for the attack, tweeting that it was “outrageous” and saying such assaults are “what prevents the world from helping the people of Gaza! We strongly support Israel in defense of its citizens. Always!”

MK Bezalel Smotrich, of the right-wing Jewish Home party tweeted that Netanyahu should order strikes to “flatten 20 buildings in Gaza.”

Former defense minister Avigdor Liberman (Yisrael Beytenu), who resigned his post in November last year in protest of the government’s handling of Gaza border violence — which he deemed too light-handed — also called for a return to targeted killings and criticized current policies for containing Gaza violence.

After months of border clashes, which at times nearly escalated into all out war between Israel and Gaza, an unofficial ceasefire in November, reportedly brokered by Egypt, saw Hamas scale back border violence in return for the transfer of tens of millions of dollars from Qatar, in cash, via Israeli territory.

“Just this week the government approved transferring $20 million to Hamas,” Liberman tweeted. “More protection money won’t bring quiet. Just the opposite, it draws more provocations. I call on the government to immediately return to the policy of targeted killings and to punish those responsible. We must exact a personal price from the terror chiefs.”

Palestinian members of al-Qassam Brigades, the armed wing of the Hamas terror group, attend a rally marking the 31st anniversary of Hamas’ founding, in Gaza City, December 16, 2018. (SAID KHATIB / AFP)

The attack marked the first time rockets from the Gaza Strip were fired at the heart of the country since the 2014 war Israel fought against Hamas, signalling a possible dramatic escalation of violence by terror groups in the Strip just weeks before the Knesset elections. There have been sporadic rocket and mortar attacks on Israeli communities near Gaza over the past year.

A Hamas official told the The Times of Israel that the terror group “has no interest in an escalation” with Israel. The official said he “has no idea” who fired rockets toward Tel Aviv.

Initial reports had indicated that the PIJ terror group was responsible for the rocket fire. Hebrew-language media reported that Fajr missiles were launched, which PIJ has in its arsenal. However, the terror group denied that it was behind the launch.

Recent weeks have seen a dramatic uptick in the level of violence along the Gaza border, with near-nightly riots and a return of airborne bomb and arson attacks, which had waned in light of the ceasefire agreement between Israel and Hamas at the end of last year.

Israel began a wave of assassinations against Hamas and other terrorist leaders in the early part of the past decade. The tactic, which Israel says is a preventive measure against terror attacks, drew harsh backlash from rights groups and foreign governments over civilian casualties in the killings.

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