After sleepless night of rockets, southern Israeli schools reopen as usual
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After sleepless night of rockets, southern Israeli schools reopen as usual

Head of local government says he supports IDF’s tougher response to Gaza kite attacks, demands ‘no more rockets… no more fires’

Judah Ari Gross is The Times of Israel's military correspondent.

A police sapper digs up a rocket fired from Gaza that landed outside a kindergarten in one of the communities of the Eshkol region on June 20, 2018. (Eshkol region)
A police sapper digs up a rocket fired from Gaza that landed outside a kindergarten in one of the communities of the Eshkol region on June 20, 2018. (Eshkol region)

Schools in southern Israel opened as normal on Wednesday morning, following a “sleepless night” of dozens of rocket and mortar attacks from the Gaza Strip, including one that hit just outside a kindergarten, local officials said.

“Lessons in education facilities are being held as usual. Security coordinators from the communities [in the region] will accompany the students’ buses to schools,” said a spokesperson for the Eshkol region, the area that was hit hardest by rockets.

Though the schools opened as usual, the day’s activities were altered in light of the predawn Palestinian attacks and the Israel Defense Forces’ counterstrikes in Gaza.

“Lessons will be adapted to the events of the night. The teaching staff will speak to students and try to identify any problems,” she said.

Around midnight on Tuesday, Israeli jets bombed three Hamas positions in the Strip in response to numerous airborne arson attacks by Gazans earlier in the day.

An explosion is seen from the city of Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip after an airstrike by Israeli forces in response to dozens of rocket attacks by Palestinian terrorist groups from the coastal enclave on June 20, 2018. (Said Khatib/AFP)

Minutes later, Palestinians in the Strip launched the first of many barrages at southern Israel, triggering sirens throughout the area and sending thousands into bomb shelters.

Over the course of the next four hours, some 45 rockets and mortar shells were fired at southern Israel, with at least six exploding inside communities, causing damage but no injuries. One of them hit just outside a kindergarten in the Eshkol region.

Seven projectiles were intercepted by the Iron Dome missile defense system, and three fell short of the border and landed inside Gaza, the army said. The rest appeared to have fallen in open fields.

It was the second time in under a month that an Israeli kindergarten was hit in an attack from the Gaza Strip. On May 29, a mortar shell fired by the Palestinian Islamic Jihad terror group exploded on a tree in the yard of a kindergarten, causing damage but no injuries as the building was empty at the time.

A rocket fired from Gaza that landed in one of the communities of the Eshkol region on June 20, 2018. (Eshkol Security)

On Wednesday morning, Gadi Yarkoni, the head of the Eshkol region, praised the IDF for carrying out the initial airstrikes in response to the Gazan arson attacks.

“Eshkol residents had a sleepless night last night,” Yarkoni said. “We support the IDF for its response to the terror kites, which harm our way of life. And we expect the IDF to continue working to bring back calm to the region, with no more rockets launched at our communities and homes, and no more fires in our fields.”

A police sapper handles a rocket fired from Gaza that landed in a street in one of the communities of the Eshkol region on June 20, 2018. (Israel Police)

According to the Eshkol spokesperson, at least six rockets or shells landed inside communities in the region, causing damage to buildings and cars.

The army said it believes Hamas, which rules Gaza, was behind the rocket and mortar attacks, but is investigating to see if other terror groups were involved, like the Iran-backed Palestinian Islamic Jihad, which has repeatedly carried out attacks on Israel from the Strip.

“The most important thing is that Hamas is responsible,” IDF spokesperson Lt. Col. Jonathan Conricus told reporters, referring to the terror group’s control over the enclave.

In response, the Israeli military carried out several more rounds of airstrikes in the Gaza Strip, striking more than 20 Hamas positions — in addition to its earlier raid in response to Tuesday’s kite attacks.

Conricus said those included a strike on a Hamas “underground training facility, where they train terrorists in how to use tunnels.”

Hamas accused the IDF of trying to “change the rules of engagement” by adopting the policy of carrying out strikes on its facilities in response to arson attacks from the Strip.

Throughout Tuesday, Palestinians in the Gaza Strip flew numerous incendiary kites and balloons into southern Israel, sparking approximately 20 brush fires, according to Israeli officials.

Such aerial arson attacks have occurred on a daily basis in recent weeks, causing hundreds of fires that have burned thousands of acres of land in southern Israel.

The army initially tried to prevent Palestinians from launching incendiary kites and balloons by firing warning shots at them, but that effort failed to yield results. Instead, this week, the IDF took to treating the arson attacks as it does rocket launches and began carrying out retaliatory strikes on Hamas positions.

View of some of the Israeli territory burned by incendiary kites and balloons launched by Palestinians in Gaza from June 18, 2018. (Eshkol Security)

That new air raid policy also prompted Palestinians to fire rockets at southern Israel earlier this week.

Early Monday morning, terrorists fired three rockets at southern Israel, hours after Israeli aircraft hit a number of targets in the coastal enclave in response to numerous arson attacks perpetrated by Palestinians the day before, the military said.

The army said two of the rockets fell inside Israel, while the third appeared to fall short of the border.

An explosion is seen in Gaza City after an airstrike by Israel on June 18, 2018. (AFP/ MAHMUD HAMS)

The latest round of mutual blows threatens to end a tacit ceasefire that has largely held since a daylong flareup in late May that saw Hamas, Palestinian Islamic Jihad and smaller terrorist groups in the Strip launched approximately 200 rockets and mortar shells at southern Israel. In response, the IDF bombed more than 65 targets in the Gaza Strip belonging to Islamic Jihad and Hamas.

On Wednesday, Conricus said the military was determined to prevent arson attacks and any other violence against Israelis by terror groups in Gaza.

“While we do not seek to escalate, we will not hesitate to use all the measures at our disposal,” he said.

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