Amid rocket attacks, opposition leaders and local residents lambaste Gaza policy
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Amid rocket attacks, opposition leaders and local residents lambaste Gaza policy

Gantz slams lack of ‘strategic through-line’ in handling Hamas; Sderot woman says: ‘We’re becoming wrecks’

Blue and White party leader Benny Gantz holds a press conference in Kibbutz Nahal Oz, near the Gaza border in southern Israel on March 15, 2019. (Flash90)
Blue and White party leader Benny Gantz holds a press conference in Kibbutz Nahal Oz, near the Gaza border in southern Israel on March 15, 2019. (Flash90)

As Gaza rockets rained down upon southern Israel and warning sirens wailed repeatedly Saturday morning, leaders of the opposition, as well as local residents, censured the government for failing to enact policies that will see an end to the cycles of violence.

“For a long time now the Israeli government has been acting without a strategic through-line,” Blue and White chief Benny Gantz, the intended opposition leader, said.

“When a lack of policy and consistency meets an acquiescence to Hamas’s blackmail over the past year, we are met on a Saturday morning by heavy barrages on Israel and another round of extortion,” said Gantz, a former IDF chief. “The Israel government must choose a decisive, resolute strategic direction… The Israeli government must reassert deterrence and only then seek a long-term agreement, without security compromises and without extortion [by Palestinian terror groups].”

Following heavy fighting in early April, Israel agreed to ease the blockade on the Gaza Strip in exchange for a halt to rocket fire. This included expanding a fishing zone off Gaza’s coast, increasing imports into Gaza and allowing the Gulf state of Qatar to deliver aid to cash-strapped Gaza.

Blue and White MK Alon Schuster, until recently the head of the head of the Sha’ar Hanegev Regional Council near Gaza, blasted Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu who “has for 10 years led policy and forsaken the residents of the Gaza periphery to the whims of Hamas and Islamic Jihad.”

He said Israel must be “forceful towards Hamas in the military arena and generous towards the civilian population in Gaza which is also a hostage to [Hamas’s] policies.”

Kibbutz Kissufim spokesman Benny Hasson told Army Radio he was upset that the government was reportedly weighing in its considerations the potential danger hostilities could pose to the Eurovision song contest, slated to be held in Tel Aviv later this month.

“They’re concerned with Eurovision while we’re concerned with saving lives. We’re hostages of this country,” he said.

Matan, a resident of Netiv Ha’asara, told Army Radio: “I’ve had it with living like this. Someone has to do something with this mess.”

A picture taken from the Gaza Strip on May 4, 2019 shows rockets being launched toward Israel (MAHMUD HAMS / AFP)

Hava, a resident of Sderot, told the radio the situation was “impossible. We’re becoming wrecks.” She called on the government to “let the IDF do its work” and show less consideration for the possible harm to innocent lives in Gaza. “My grandchildren are innocent too,” she said.

MK Ofer Shelah of Blue and White accused Netanyahu of effectively strengthening Hamas in Gaza through his policies “in order to avoid a political process with the Palestinian Authority.”

New MK Michal Shir of Likud accused Blue and White of trying “to score cynical political points at the expense of southern residents.”

She said Netanyahu was “working day and night to keep Israel safe. If you have nothing to contribute at least don’t get in the way.”

MK Amir Peretz attends a Defense and Foreign Affairs Committee meeting at the Knesset, October 22, 2018. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

Labor MK Amir Peretz, a former defense minister, said Israel’s leadership “is failing to handle [events] and continues its fruitless attempts to ‘manage’ the reality instead of changing it.”

He too called for renewed communication with the PA, asserting that “the policy of ‘divide and conquer’ between Gaza and [the West Bank] has failed.”

Meretz party head Tamar Zandberg said another round of hostilities was not the answer and called for “a true ceasefire including the necessary steps [of] easing humanitarian conditions and removing the blockade, and then a significant diplomatic move.”

Israel and Egypt have maintained a crippling blockade on Gaza since Hamas, which seeks to destroy Israel, seized control of the territory in 2007. Jerusalem says it is necessary to prevent terror groups from rearming and becoming an even greater menace.

Over 100 rockets were launched into Israel from the Gaza Strip Saturday morning. Warning sirens were heard in Rehovot, Ashkelon, Ashdod, Sderot and multiple communities in the Eshkol and Sha’ar Henegev Regional Councils. The Iron Dome missile defense system intercepted dozens of projectiles.

A home in a community in the Eshkol Regional Council suffered a direct hit, without casualties, as the residents had run to a nearby shelter moments earlier once sirens were heard. Police were at the scene.

Also in Eshkol a rocket fell inside a community but did not cause damage. Another rocket impacted on Route 4, a major highway, near Ashkelon. Sappers were on the scene.

Magen David Adom said none were injured by the rocket barrages. However a 15-year-old boy was lightly hurt running to a shelter, and two people suffered from shock.

In response to the attacks, the IDF said the air force struck at least two rocket launchers in the Strip, and tanks fired at several posts belonging to the Hamas terror group, which rules Gaza.

IDF Chief of Staff Aviv Kohavi was holding talks with Shin Bet chief Nadav Argaman, Southern Command chief Herzi Halevi and other top brass. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who is also defense minister, was set to arrive at IDF headquarters in Tel Aviv for consultations.

In light of the ongoing attacks, the IDF’s Home Front Command issued instructions for residents in affected areas to remain near protected spaces. It also limited public gatherings to 300 people in enclosed spaces only and halted agricultural work. Many municipalities opened public shelters. Beaches and national parks in the south were closed, and sporting events canceled.

On Thursday, a Hamas delegation led by the group’s Gaza chief Yahya Sinwar traveled to Cairo for talks with Egyptian officials on a truce with Israel, Hamas officials said.

That agreement has appeared to be under stress in recent days, with Palestinians launching arson balloons and rockets into Israel and Israeli warplanes striking Hamas targets.

Palestinian protesters clash with Israeli troops on the Gaza border, May 3, 2019. (Hassan Jedi/Flash90)

Hamas has said the incendiary balloons were a message to Israel not to hold up the transfer of millions of dollars in Qatari aid funds to the cash-strapped Hamas government in Gaza.

Agencies contributed to this report.

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