Fresh rockets target south but shaky Gaza ceasefire appears to hold

Fresh rockets target south but shaky Gaza ceasefire appears to hold

Iron Dome intercepts two projectiles launched at Sderot and surrounding area; city of Ashkelon joins Gaza border communities in canceling school for Friday

Judah Ari Gross is The Times of Israel's military correspondent.

An Israeli missile launched from the Iron Dome defense missile system, designed to intercept and destroy incoming short-range rockets and artillery shells, is seen above Gaza City on November 13, 2019. (MAHMUD HAMS / AFP)
An Israeli missile launched from the Iron Dome defense missile system, designed to intercept and destroy incoming short-range rockets and artillery shells, is seen above Gaza City on November 13, 2019. (MAHMUD HAMS / AFP)

Terrorists in the Gaza Strip fired two rockets at southern Israel on Thursday night in the fourth Palestinian violation of a ceasefire agreement announced earlier in the day.

Soldiers operating the Iron Dome air defense system shot down the incoming projectiles that were heading toward the southern town of Sderot and the surrounding area, the army said.

There were no reports of injuries or damage caused by shrapnel from the intercepted rockets.

Following the attack shortly after 10 p.m., the southern city of Ashkelon said it was canceling schools for Friday, following the lead of the Israeli communities closest to the Gaza border who made a similar announcement earlier in the evening in light of the multiple breaches of a ceasefire agreement.

Three separate volleys of rockets were fired at Israel from Gaza Thursday morning and afternoon, puncturing a tense calm and leading to fears of a resumption of violence. In one case pieces of a projectile landed in the yard of a daycare in Netivot, but there were no injuries.

Despite the rocket attacks, a fragile truce appeared to hold and Israel refrained from striking Gaza, despite growing public pressure to do so.

Aside from the rockets, calm largely returned to large swathes of Israel Thursday following two days of fighting with Palestinian terrorists in the Gaza Strip, after an Egypt-brokered ceasefire took effect at dawn. The flare-up, which saw hundreds of rockets fired at Israel and heavy airstrikes on Gaza, started after an Israeli missile killed Baha Abu al-Ata, a senior commander in the Palestinian Islamic Jihad terror group.

Maj. Gen. Gen. Herzi Halevi, the head of the Israeli military’s Southern Command, reportedly warned Gaza-area residents earlier Thursday that the rocket fire could continue even with the ceasefire agreement in place.

“It’s true to now that the escalation is behind us, but the fire can resume,” he was quoted saying by Channel 12 news.

Halevi said the Palestinian Islamic Jihad, which led the 48-hour battle, was “making efforts to prevent cells from firing at Israel.”

The general said the Israel Defense Forces would also be working to thwart these attacks.

“If we identity launch efforts, we will strike the cells,” Halevi said.

Other Israeli leaders have warned they would not hesitate to return to battle footing.

Islamic Jihad’s military wing as well threatened Israel that it was ready to continue fighting.

“Our fighters in all of our military units still have their fingers on the trigger and they work in accordance with a fully integrated military system that depends on the command of the movement’s leadership,” the Al-Quds Brigade said in a statement, unveiling what it said was a new rocket used in the fighting– the Buraq 120.

An Iron Dome battery missile set up in Sderot, Southern Israel, near the border with neighbouring Palestinian Gaza Strip on November 13, 2019. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90 )

Earlier, the IDF said schools and businesses were allowed to reopen and limits on the sizes of gatherings were removed in the Gaza periphery and nearby Lachish region. The restrictions had been removed from the rest of southern and central Israel earlier in the day but briefly remained in place in the most hard-hit areas.

In addition, Israel reopened all land crossings for the Gaza Strip and resumed allowing Palestinian fisherman to work up to 15 nautical miles from the shore, following a security assessment, an Israeli official said Thursday.

Touring an Iron Dome command center Thursday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the fighting had ended and Israel had sent a deterrent message to “our enemies” before the ceasefire was reached.

Islamic Jihad spokesman Musab al-Berim said the ceasefire was based on a list of demands presented by his group late Wednesday, including a halt to Israeli targeted killings of the group’s leaders.

According to an Egyptian official, the agreement stipulates that Palestinian factions must ensure a return to calm in Gaza and “maintain peace” during demonstrations, while Israel must stop hostilities and “ensure a ceasefire” during demonstrations by Palestinians.

Over the course of some 48 hours, from predawn Tuesday to Thursday morning, over 450 rockets and mortar shells were fired at southern Israel from the Gaza Strip in response to the assassination of Abu al-Ata, who Israel said was the “prime instigator” of terrorism from Gaza over the past year.

Most of the rockets either landed in open fields or were intercepted by Israeli air defenses. Some struck homes, businesses and streets, causing a handful of light to moderate injuries and significant property damage. Dozens of people were also wounded as they fell running to bomb shelters.

Rockets are fired from the Gaza Strip toward Israel on November 13, 2019. (Anas Baba/AFP)

In response to the attacks, the Israeli military conducted dozens of strikes on Islamic Jihad bases and weapons facilities, as well as rocket-launching teams throughout the Strip, killing 25 terrorists, according to the IDF.

Nine other Palestinians were killed in Israeli strikes, including a Palestinian father Mahmoud Ayad, 54, and his two sons — Islam, 7, and Amir, 24 — who were killed in an Israeli airstrike in what appeared to be a case of mistaken identity, as residents of the Gaza Strip denied that they were involved with terrorist activities. In addition, two women and four children, who were family members of two senior PIJ operatives, were killed in Israeli strikes that targeted the two men.

Times of Israel staff and AFP contributed to this report.

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