ISRAEL AT WAR - DAY 140

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At stroke of midnight, Hamas attacks Israel with heavy New Year rocket barrage

Over 20 projectiles target south and center of country as Israelis mark the start of the new year amid sorrow: ‘The minute I start to dance, I feel guilty’

Screen capture from video of a rocket barrage from the Gaza Strip being intercepted over Israel, January 1, 2024. (X. Used in accordance with Clause 27a of the Copyright Law)
Screen capture from video of a rocket barrage from the Gaza Strip being intercepted over Israel, January 1, 2024. (X. Used in accordance with Clause 27a of the Copyright Law)

The Hamas terror group fired at least 27 rockets at the south and center of the country in a barrage timed for midnight as Israelis tried to celebrate the start of the new year.

Air defense systems intercepted 18 rockets and nine fell in open areas.

Sirens sounded in various locations in the center of the country including Rehovot, Ness Ziona, Holon, Lod, and Modiin, as well as Ashdod, Sderot, and other southern towns.

Loud explosions from the intercepts boomed through the sky over Tel Aviv.

The Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades, the armed wing of Hamas, claimed responsibility for the attack from Gaza in a video published on social media, saying it had fired M90 rockets in “response to the massacres of civilians” ostensibly carried out by Israel.

There were no reports of casualties or damage. The municipalities of Rishon Lezion and Ness Tziona later said while there were no direct hits on the cities, some shrapnel did land within their boundaries.

In an English language post to its X (formerly Twitter) feed, the Israel Defense Forces wrote, “New year, same Hamas terrorism.”

“While 129 Israelis are still being held captive by Hamas in Gaza, Hamas also decided to start 2024 by launching a barrage of rockets at Israel,” the IDF said. “There is no ‘happy’ New Year until they are all home.”

The Israeli Embassy to the US also commented on X, posting a video of rockets being fired out of the Gaza Strip.

“These are not midnight fireworks, but a Hamas rocket attack at Israelis trying to bring in the new year happily,” the embassy wrote.

The IDF’s ground operation in recent weeks has led to a significant decline in the number of rockets launched from Gaza at Israel. The midnight rocket barrage was the first rocket fire at the center of the country in a week and a half.

Military sources said Monday that the rockets fired at central Israel were launched from the south of the Gaza Strip, in the Rafah area, where IDF ground forces have not focused to date. Those fired at southern Israel, they said, were launched from Jabaliya, in northern Gaza, where IDF ground troops have been operating for several weeks.

War erupted on October 7 when Hamas carried out a devastating attack on southern Israel, killing over 1,200 people, mostly civilians. The thousands of Hamas-led terrorists who burst through the border with the Gaza Strip also abducted at least 240 people of all ages who were taken as hostages in the Palestinian enclave.

Israel responded to the attack and massacres with a military campaign – including a major ground incursion – aimed at destroying Hamas and removing it from power in Gaza, and rescuing the hostages.

A weeklong ceasefire in November saw 105 hostages released. A handful of others were set free earlier and one hostage was rescued by Israeli forces.

Fear and resilience in Tel Aviv

Seconds after ringing in the new year on a lively street in Tel Aviv, some young Israelis found themselves running for cover. Others kept the party going with a shrug, as missile defense systems intercepted a barrage of rockets overhead.

The attack came at the stroke of midnight, just as many were trying to forget about the war in the Gaza Strip.

“We were all afraid… my heart was pounding,” Gabriel Zemelman, 26, said in front of a bar after the rocket fire.

“It’s not like the usual life you imagine, even I who was born here,” he added. “It’s terrifying… it’s crazy.”

The street in Tel Aviv was crowded with partyers on Sunday night despite the ongoing war.

Israelis celebrating on New Year’s Eve, at a bar in Tel Aviv, December 31, 2023. (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)

Musician Boaz Bates said he was “praying for peace, for people to stop hating each other and come together.”

The 25-year-old was sharply critical of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government, noting that “at the end of the day, it’s not them who are on the ground fighting.”

‘Get on with our lives’

Ido Hurvitz had come out for dinner at a restaurant before going to a private party to ring in the new year. He said he hoped “we can learn to live together because most of us want peace.”

Despite the festive atmosphere, the 24-year-old technology student said his feelings were lukewarm: “Our country is at war, but we have to get on with our lives. That’s our way of winning.”

Beside him, 24-year-old reservist Shir Taitou also had mixed feelings, explaining that she had wanted to come out but was “sad” that some of her friends were mobilized in Gaza.

A video posted to social media showed a wedding party that was forced to abandon celebrations and rush to a bomb shelter during the rocket attack. There, in the crowded underground space, revelers did their best to keep the party going.

In front of one Tel Aviv bar, people danced in the street to blaring techno music under a large sign that read “Bring them home now!” — a reference to the hostages.

Some didn’t have the heart to party, like server Ran Stahl, 24, who opted to work the New Year’s event.

“I dressed well tonight because I need to get my head above water,” he said, explaining that one of his friends was among those killed on October 7 at the Supernova music festival where the invading Palestinian terrorists slaughtered over 360 people.

Since then, he hasn’t felt that he was allowed to have fun, he said. “The minute I start to dance, I feel guilty — the sadness and mourning come back.”

Israelis celebrate on New Year’s Eve, at a pub in Tel Aviv, December 31, 2023. (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)

Skyscrapers in Tel Aviv were lit up in yellow to call for the release of hostages held by Palestinian terrorists in Gaza for more than 80 days.

“While you are counting down to the new year, our time and our lives stopped,” said Moran Betzer Tayar, the aunt of Yagev Buchshtab, a 34-year-old hostage.

Palestinians displaced by the war cook at the makeshift tent camp in the Muwasi area of Gaza on Dec. 31, 2023 (AP Photo/Fatima Shbair)

Meanwhile, in the Gaza Strip, displaced Palestinians huddled around fires in a makeshift refugee camp.

“From the intensity of the pain we live, we do not feel that there is a new year,” said Kamal al-Zeinaty, who has lost multiple family members in the conflict. “All the days are the same.”

The Hamas-run health ministry says at least 21,000 people have been killed in the ground operation. Figures issued by the terror group cannot be independently verified and include both civilians and terror operatives killed in Gaza, including as a consequence of terror groups’ own rocket misfires. According to IDF assessments, some 8,500 terror operatives have been killed in Gaza since the start of the war.

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