As rocket drizzle persists, some fume over ‘indecisive’ end to Gaza fighting

Angry locals say Islamic Jihad not deterred; leaders in south lash IDF’s Home Front Command for prematurely ordering return to normal routine, shortly before rocket barrage hit

A man looks at the damage to a house in Sderot, Israel, after it was hit by a rocket fired from Gaza Strip, November 12, 2019. (Tsafrir Abayov/AP)
A man looks at the damage to a house in Sderot, Israel, after it was hit by a rocket fired from Gaza Strip, November 12, 2019. (Tsafrir Abayov/AP)

Residents and local leaders in Israel’s south slammed a Thursday ceasefire agreement with the Palestinian Islamic Jihad terror group in Gaza for failing to deliver a decisive victory after two days of rocket barrages that crippled life in southern communities.

Criticism was also heard over the government’s premature all-clear for residents, which came shortly before a fresh volley of rockets hit the region.

The Israel Defense Forces said five rockets were fired at Israel Thursday morning, several hours after the military confirmed that a ceasefire had gone into effect with the terror group. Early Thursday evening, sirens again rang out in some Israeli communities as a rocket was downed by the Iron Dome anti-missile system.

Israel and Palestinian Islamic Jihad began exchanging fire Tuesday morning, when Israel killed a top Islamic Jihad commander, Baha Abu al-Ata, who Israeli officials said was the “prime instigator” of rocket fire and other terror attacks emanating from Gaza over the past year.

An Israeli missile is launched from the Iron Dome defense 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)

Islamic Jihad, an Iran-backed terrorist group sworn to Israel’s destruction, responded by launching hundreds of rockets toward Israel, some reaching as far as Tel Aviv, prompting Israel to carry out scores of airstrikes.

There were no reports of damage or injuries in Thursday morning’s bombardment, which targeted the town of Netivot and nearby communities, though part of one rocket landed in a children’s daycare center.

Despite the sporadic rocket fire, the fragile ceasefire appeared to mostly stick Thursday.

Labor-Gesher party head Amir Peretz, a former defense minister and Sderot native, dismissed the drizzle as the work of “troublemakers.” “These things happen,” he told Channel 13 news.

Residents gather in a shelter during a rocket attack from the Gaza Strip in the southern Israeli city of Ashkelon on November 13, 2019. (GIL COHEN-MAGEN / AFP)

Others, though, were angered by the army calling a return to routine while sirens still rang out.

Arel Hajaj, whose son was at the daycare center in Netivot, described to Channel 12 television the confusion and alarm caused by the late rocket strike.

“There was panic and parents left work and returned to pick up their children,” Hajaj said, noting that by the time he arrived at the daycare his son was one of the last ones left.

“There is a lot of anger at the government that isn’t protecting us and entered into a ceasefire agreement while they are still shooting at us,” he said. “There is anger also at the [army’s] Home Front Command and the municipality that didn’t take into account the danger and opened schools at 9 a.m. in the morning.”

A rocket fragment in a daycare center in Netivot on November 14, 2019 (Courtesy Aviad Amos)

Hajaj called the situation “a disgrace,” adding, “After two days of fighting, the government says, ‘Go back to routine,’ and look, two hours later, once again the routine of our daily lives is destroyed.”

Community leaders also complained about what they described as lackluster results from the fighting, with some calling instead for a broad military campaign meant to bring the rocket attacks to a decisive end.

Alon Davidi, mayor of Sderot, a town bordering Gaza which has been targeted by rocket fire from Gaza for the past 18 years, said he had spoken Wednesday with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu about the situation.

Alon Davidi, mayor of the southern Israeli city of Sderot, attends a press conference in Jerusalem, March 27, 2017. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

“I asked that the [military] operation continue for as long as necessary, the important thing being that there is quiet,” he told the Kan public broadcaster.

Davidi said he had urged Netanyahu to make targeted killings the “standard” response “for anyone who shoots at us,” and assured the premier the government would have the full backing of local residents, who are prepared to sit in bomb shelters for two or three months if necessary, for a decisive military campaign that would bring them a few years of quiet.

Long-term quiet would only be achieved through a major military operation on the scale of the 2014 Operation Protective Edge, Davidi said Thursday. In that war, IDF forces battled Hamas and other terror groups for 50 days deep inside Gaza.

“We must embark on such a campaign,” he said. “Without such an operation the quiet will not be restored.”

Sha’ar Hanegev Regional Council Chairman Ofir Libstein, whose region borders Gaza, also criticized the ceasefire.

“Things are not quiet for us,” he said. “While the military success is great, the political achievement isn’t there. There was no decisive accomplishment or understanding [with Islamic Jihad], and the terror organizations have not packed away the rocket launchers.”

Israeli soldiers and artillery at a staging area in southern Israel, near the border with the Gaza Strip on November 13, 2019. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Sdot Negev Regional Council Tamir Idan criticized the IDF for prematurely authorizing local schools to open Thursday.

“Children in Netivot went back to their studies and found themselves without protection and with rockets falling on their heads. The Home Front [Command] should think a bit more” before issuing its all clear. “It is irresponsible to send children back to school” so soon after a heavy barrage of rockets, he said. “This was neglect.”

In a press briefing Thursday, a spokesperson for the Israeli military said that around 450 rockets had been launched toward Israel during the recent escalation, of which 60 percent landed in open fields and 90% of the remainder were intercepted.

A policeman stands in front of a house hit by a rocket fired from Gaza Strip that landed in Netivot, Israel, November 12, 2019. (Tsafrir Abayov/AP)

Several dozen Israelis were hurt, mostly while running to shelter or suffering panic attacks.

The IDF named the bout of fighting Operation Black Belt. The military said Thursday it had swiftly achieved its objectives in the fight and struck a “serious blow” to Islamic Jihad’s capabilities.

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