Rocket launched from Gaza shatters calm, but fragile ceasefire appears to hold

Palestinians say malfunction caused misfire less than a day after ceasefire between Israel and Islamic Jihad put into effect; IDF shells position

Emanuel (Mannie) Fabian is The Times of Israel's military correspondent

A rocket is fired from Gaza City towards Israel, on May 10, 2023. (Mahmud HAMS/ AFP)
File: A rocket is fired from Gaza City towards Israel, on May 10, 2023. (Mahmud HAMS/ AFP)

A rocket was launched from the Gaza Strip at the southern coastal city of Ashkelon on Sunday evening, the military said, breaking around 20 hours of calm after a ceasefire was reached between Israel and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad and drawing an Israeli reprisal strike.

Yet hours later, the tense standoff appeared to remain in place, with both sides holding fire following the brief exchange and Gazan terrorists signaling showing little desire to continue fighting after five days of violence.

The Israel Defense Forces said the rocket, which triggered alarms in Ashkelon’s southern industrial zone, and the nearby towns of Zikim and Netiv Ha’asara, landed in an open field, without causing any injuries or damage.

The Iron Dome air defense system was not used, as the projectile was not heading for a populated area, the IDF added.

A source in the so-called “Joint Room” of Palestinian terror factions in the Gaza Strip told the Al-Jazeera network that the rocket was launched as a result of a technical malfunction.

“The resistance confirms its commitment to the ceasefire,” the source added.

The IDF said tanks carried out strikes against two observation posts belonging to the Hamas terror group in response.

Israel generally responds with strikes against Hamas sites regardless of the group launching the attack, noting that it is responsible for any attacks emanating from the territory. At times, it has directed its response at Islamic Jihad, if the terror group claimed responsibility.

After five days of fighting, a ceasefire was slated to come into effect at 10 p.m. on Saturday evening, although rocket attacks and retaliatory airstrikes continued in the hours following. By Sunday morning, the ceasefire appeared to be holding, and the IDF lifted all remaining restrictions on the activities of those living and working in Gaza border towns.

The IDF on Sunday evening published statistics from its five-day operation, which it dubbed Shield and Arrow.

Smoke and fire rise from an explosion caused by an Israeli airstrike targeting a building in Gaza, May 13, 2023. The building was owned by an Islamic Jihad official. (AP/Ashraf Amra)

According to IDF data, Palestinian terrorists launched 1,468 rockets and mortars at Israel during the five-day conflict.

The military said that 290 of the rockets, about 20 percent, fell short in the Gaza Strip, and another 39 landed in the sea, with the remaining 1,139 rockets crossing the border to Israel.

The Iron Dome air defense system intercepted around 430 rockets, marking a 95% interception rate of projectiles headed for populated areas. Two rockets were also intercepted by David’s Sling, the system’s first successful operational use.

Two people were killed and several others were wounded by rockets that fell in both populated and unpopulated areas of Israel. Inga Avramyan, 80, was killed when a missile slammed into her apartment on Thursday in the city of Rehovot, before she and her disabled husband managed to seek shelter. The IDF said the Iron Dome suffered a “technical fault,” which prevented the rocket from being intercepted.

Palestinian laborer Abdullah Abu Jaba, from Gaza, was killed on Saturday when a rocket fired from Gaza hit an agricultural building site near the southern border town of Shokeda. The Iron Dome does not intercept rockets heading for unpopulated areas, and IDF regulations barred people from working in places without air raid sirens and adequate bomb shelters.

The IDF said it carried out strikes against 422 Islamic Jihad targets in the Gaza Strip, including eight military sites, 19 command centers, 12 weapons manufacturing sites, 122 rocket launchers, 63 mortar launching sites, 10 squads launching rockets and mortars; and carried out 21 targeted killings — including of six senior members of the terrorist group.

The Iron Dome anti-missile system fires interception missiles as rockets are fired from the Gaza Strip into Israel, as seen from Sderot, on May 13, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The Air Force carried out the strikes with 120 fighter jets, 14 combat helicopters, and an unspecified number of drones. The aircraft used 250 tons of munitions (a total of 390 bombs). Drones carried out a total of 115 strikes, and ground forces carried out 10 strikes.

The IDF said it killed a total of 21 terror operatives during the fighting. The Hamas-run health ministry in Gaza reported 33 deaths during the fighting. The IDF said at least four civilians were likely killed by failed rockets, and a number of civilians were killed during the initial strikes of the operation early Tuesday morning, targeting senior Islamic Jihad members.

Speaking to reporters, the head of the IDF Southern Command, Maj. Gen. Eliezer Toledano, said the surprise strikes on Tuesday were key to what the military views as a very successful operation.

“It was important for us to start the operation with a complete surprise, during a [normal] routine, because in the face of terror organizations that use their citizens and their families to protect themselves, you have to work with smart and sophisticated methods,” Toledano said.

“It was important for us to keep up a sequence of targeted strikes and to eliminate [terror operatives] every day,” he said. “I’m happy that together with our partners we made the right planning and with the highest quality execution.”

Toledano said defensive activities were continuing on the Gaza border following the ceasefire.

Police and rescue forces at the scene where a rocket fired from Gaza hit and damaged a building in Rehovot on May 11, 2023. (Yossi Aloni/Flash90)

Announcing the ceasefire on Saturday evening, Egypt said the parties agreed to “a commitment to stop the attacks on civilians and the destruction of homes, as well as the harm to people immediately, from the start of the ceasefire.”

Cairo said it expected Israel and Islamic Jihad to abide by the agreement, despite contradictory reports on its contents.

In Gaza, Islamic Jihad spokesman Tareq Selmi said Israel had agreed to halt its policy of targeted strikes on the group’s leaders. “Any stupidity or assassination by the occupation will be met with a response and the Zionist enemy bears the responsibility,” he said.

But in a statement thanking Egypt for its “vigorous efforts” to negotiate an end to the fighting, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s national security adviser, Tzachi Hanegbi, said that “quiet would be answered with quiet” and Israel would do “everything that it needs to in order to defend itself.”

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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