With further violence likely, Israeli and Gazan schools to stay closed Wednesday

Municipalities of Ashkelon, Modiin, Beersheba and others say classes won’t be held; Home Front Command says Tel Aviv-area schools, businesses can operate normally

A police sapper inspects a house in the southern Israeli town of Netivot on November 12, 2019, following a rocket attack from Gaza City in retaliation for an Israeli strike that killed a commander of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad terror group. (MENAHEM KAHANA / AFP)
A police sapper inspects a house in the southern Israeli town of Netivot on November 12, 2019, following a rocket attack from Gaza City in retaliation for an Israeli strike that killed a commander of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad terror group. (MENAHEM KAHANA / AFP)

Many cities in Israel’s south and center announced Tuesday evening that school would be canceled on Wednesday amid ongoing fighting between Israel and Palestinian terror groups in the Gaza Strip that has seen hundreds of rockets launched at cities and communities.

Schools were also to be shuttered in the Gaza Strip in anticipation of further violence.

Israel’s targeted killing earlier Tuesday of Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) terror chief Baha Abu al-Ata was met by at least 190 rockets launched during the day by terror groups in Gaza. The Israel Defense Forces launched a campaign of retaliatory airstrikes following approximately six hours of unanswered rocket attacks on central and southern Israel from the enclave.

In light of the security situation, the municipality of the Gaza-adjacent city of Sderot, one of the most frequent targets of the terror groups, said educational institutions would not operate Wednesday for the second consecutive day.

It was joined by similar announcements by the municipalities of the larger southern cities of Ashkelon, Ashdod, Beersheba and Yavne, as well as the central cities Bnei Brak, Ramat Gan, Rishon Lezion, Rehovot, Givatayim and Modiin.

But the Home Front Command said late Tuesday night there were no security restrictions preventing schools and businesses in the Tel Aviv metropolitan area and Shfela region from operating normally.

An Israeli missile is launched from the Iron Dome defense missile system, designed to intercept and destroy incoming short-range rockets and artillery shells, in the southern Israeli town of Netivot on November 12, 2019.(MENAHEM KAHANA / AFP)

In accordance with Home Front Command orders, gatherings of more than 100 people will only be allowed in closed locations in areas close to Gaza, including the Gaza envelope region and the Lachish, Western Negev, Central Negev and Shfela regions. In the Tel Aviv metropolis, that order will be relevant to gatherings of more than 300 people.

Studies in Gaza will also not be held.

Ziyad al-Thabet, deputy minister of the Hamas-run education ministry, told the Hamas-linked al-Rai news site that it was decided that educational institutions in the Palestinian enclave would be closed Wednesday.

The high-level security cabinet convened Tuesday evening to discuss the situation and Israel’s further actions.

On Tuesday morning, the IDF Home Front Command ordered all schools and non-essential businesses closed in the following areas: the Gaza periphery; the Lachish region; the western Negev; the central Negev; and the Shfela region.

Tel Aviv’s usually crowded Habima Square, which sits above the city’s largest bomb shelter, is empty on the afternoon of November 12, 2019. (Melanie Lidman/Times of Israel)

Schools were also closed in the Dan region, including Tel Aviv, and in the Yarkon region. Businesses were temporarily ordered shut there as well, but were allowed to reopen on Tuesday morning, providing there was a bomb shelter nearby, the military said.

It was the first time that the IDF ordered a closure of both schools and businesses in the Tel Aviv metropolitan area since 1990 in the First Gulf War. Over a million Israeli students did not attend classes.

Ben Gurion Airport operated as usual.

In the predawn hours of Tuesday morning, Israeli Air Force jets fired precision ammunition at a building in the Shejaiya area of Gaza City where Abu al-Ata was located, killing him and his wife, in a joint operation by the IDF and Shin Bet security service.

According to the IDF, Abu al-Ata was the true “senior commander” of the Islamic Jihad in the Gaza Strip, having ordered the group to carry out most of the significant rocket and border attacks from the Palestinian enclave in recent months and planning to carry out more.

Shortly after Abu al-Ata’s assassination, the PIJ began launching dozens of short- and long-range rockets, firing the majority of them at the Israeli communities around Gaza and a smaller number at major cities in central Israel throughout the morning.

Dozens of the incoming projectiles were shot down by soldiers operating the Iron Dome missile defense system, representing a 90% interception rate for rockets heading toward populated areas, the army said.

The remaining 10% of projectiles struck homes, businesses and roadways, causing significant damage, but relatively few injuries.

One man was lightly injured by a rocket attack that struck a highway near the town of Gan Yavne, and an eight-year-old girl was in serious condition after she collapsed suddenly while hiding in a bomb shelter during a rocket attack on the city of Holon. It was not immediately clear if her injury was caused by the rocket attack. In addition, several people were hospitalized with light injuries that occurred as they ran to bomb shelters.

In response, the military said its fighter jets, helicopters and other aircraft targeted Palestinian Islamic Jihad “training compounds, including one used by PIJ’s naval commando unit, the shaft of an offensive terror tunnel in the northern Gaza Strip and a tunnel digging site in the central Gaza Strip,” as well as several underground facilities used to manufacture and store weapons, observation posts and training camps in three rounds of airstrikes.

These sites — specifically the underground ones — are seen as critical facilities for PIJ, which the terror group has invested large sums of money to construct.

Israeli firefighter trucks douse a burning factory in the southern Israeli town of Sderot, after it was hit with rockets fired from the Gaza Strip on November 12, 2019. (Ahmad GHARABLI / AFP)

In total, 10 Palestinians were killed in Israeli strikes on Tuesday, including Abu al-Ata and his wife, and 45 others were injured, according to the Hamas-run Gaza health ministry. PIJ said five of the dead were its members.

In Israel, a rocket struck a factory in the town of Sderot, northeast of Gaza, causing a large fire that threatened to collapse the building, the local fire department said.

Another rocket hit a home in the southern town of Netivot, causing a large amount of damage, police said. One also hit the roof of a home in the Eshkol region of southern Israel while the family was taking cover in the bomb shelter. There were no injuries.

A rocket struck the Route 4 highway near the Gan Yavne Junction, lightly injuring a man and causing significant damage to the road and several cars. Police sappers were called to the scene to remove the projectile.

Several rockets also struck elsewhere in the town of Sderot, northeast of the Gaza Strip, causing light property damage; one hit the city of Ashdod, damaging a car; and one struck a street in Rishon Lezion.

Hospitals and other emergency services were put on high alert in light of the ongoing rocket attacks.

Israel and Gaza have engaged in several sporadic rounds of violence over the last two years as the sides attempted to reach a long-term ceasefire.

Jacob Magid contributed to this report.

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