Amid heightened tensions, false alarm sends southern Israelis to bomb shelters

Amid heightened tensions, false alarm sends southern Israelis to bomb shelters

Sirens sound in Hof Ashkelon region, north of the Strip, days after flareup between IDF and Hamas

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

Illustrative: Israelis take cover during rocket attack siren warning in kibbutz Kfar Aza near the Israel and Gaza border, Israel, December 29, 2017. (AP/Tsafrir Abayov)
Illustrative: Israelis take cover during rocket attack siren warning in kibbutz Kfar Aza near the Israel and Gaza border, Israel, December 29, 2017. (AP/Tsafrir Abayov)

Rocket sirens blared in Israeli communities north of the Gaza Strip on Sunday evening in what the military said was a false alarm.

The alarms sent thousands of residents of the Netiv Ha’asara and Yad Mordechai communities rushing to bomb shelters, following a tense few days after a rocket fired from the coastal enclave exploded outside a home in the southern Israeli city of Beersheba.

The Israel Defense Forces said it was investigating what triggered the system.

In a separate incident on Sunday, the IDF said a number of Palestinians breached the Israeli-Gazan border fence north of the Strip and threw explosive devices near the security fence.

“The terrorists escaped back into the territory of the Strip as a result of fire directed at them by our forces,” the IDF said.

The sirens shattered the relative calm that had persisted since a brief flareup between Israel and the Gaza-ruling Hamas terror group last Wednesday.

The rocket slammed into the top floor of the Beersheba house, causing significant damage but no injuries, as the mother inside had rushed her sons into their bomb shelter. In response, the IDF bombed some 20 targets in the coastal enclave, including a border-crossing Hamas attack tunnel, the army said.

In the following day, Egypt and the United Nations reportedly brokered a ceasefire between the two sides — though neither Israel nor Hamas formally acknowledged it.

Following a decrease in the level of violence along the border in the preceding weekend, Israel reopened its two crossings into the Strip on Sunday.

Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman’s office said a decision had yet to be made about allowing a supply of fuel that was purchased by Qatar into the coastal enclave.

“The decision… was postponed at this time and will be considered in a few days, depending on incidents [along the border],” Liberman’s office said.

Israeli trucks carrying diesel fuel enter Kerem Shalom cargo crossing on the Israel-Gaza border, October 11, 2018. (AP Photo/Tsafrir Abayov)

The defense minister had ordered the Erez pedestrian crossing and Kerem Shalom goods crossing closed last Wednesday following the rocket launch.

The past weekend saw a significant decrease in violence along the Gaza security fence compared to previous weeks, in terms of both the number of people participating in border riots and the intensity of the clashes.

The IDF said a number of explosives and grenades had been set off during clashes on Friday and that Palestinians broke through the fence in three locations before immediately returning to the coastal enclave, with soldiers opening fire at the suspects in one case.

However, Israeli defense officials described the demonstrations as some of the quietest since the wave of protests dubbed the “March of Return” began on March 30.

Israeli soldiers taking position during clashes with Palestinian protesters across the Gaza border on October 19, 2018 in Nahal Oz (Jack Guez/AFP)

On Friday and Saturday, Israeli military aircraft also fired warning shots at two groups of Palestinians who were launching incendiary balloons into Israeli territory from the Gaza Strip, sparking a number of blazes in the area near the coastal enclave.

On Thursday and Friday, leaders of the border protests had told participants to keep away from the security fence and to not behave violently — statements not released in previous weeks.

The Hamas-run Gaza health ministry said 130 Palestinians were hurt in the clashes, including 77 by live fire.

The IDF said some 10,000 people took part in the protests. It sent text messages on Friday to residents of the coastal enclave, warning them not to approach the fence, Palestinians said.

From L to R: National Security Adviser Meir Ben-Shabbat, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman, Shin Bet chief Nadav Argaman and IDF Deputy Chief of Staff Aviv Kochavi hold a situational assessment near the Gaza border on October 17, 2018. (Ariel Hermoni/Defense Ministry)

Since March 30, Palestinians in the Gaza Strip have participated in a series of protests and riots that have mostly involved the burning of tires and rock-throwing along the security fence, but have also seen shooting attacks and bombings as well as the sending of incendiary balloons and kites into Israel.

Some 156 Palestinians have been killed and thousands more have been injured in the clashes with IDF troops, according to AP figures. Hamas, which seeks to destroy Israel, has acknowledged that dozens of the dead were its members.

An Israeli soldier was shot dead by a sniper on the border earlier this year.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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