Gantz threatens Hamas and Gaza residents after exchange of fire

Defense minister says Strip won’t be given any slack because of virus outbreak; government earmarks NIS 1 billion to develop, aid border communities

Defense Minister Benny Gantz speaks to local leaders from southern Israel, August 19, 2020. (Oded Karni/GPO)
Illustrative: Defense Minister Benny Gantz speaks to local leaders from southern Israel, August 19, 2020. (Oded Karni/GPO)

Defense Minister Benny Gantz on Sunday warned the Hamas terror group against continuing to try Israel with attacks from the Gaza Strip, saying it will not be cut any slack just because of the coronavirus outbreak, which has badly hit the Palestinian coastal enclave.

His remarks came after the Israel Defense Forces hit Hamas targets overnight in response to a rocket fired fired from Gaza that blasted into an empty warehouse in the southern port city of Ashkelon, damaging the building.

“The price that we exact for each attack on our sovereignty will continue to grow and increase. In this, there will be no special coronavirus discounts,” Gantz declared at the opening of the weekly cabinet meeting in Jerusalem.

Gantz said there were a wide range of operational plans that had prepared to protect residents of the south, “and if these violations of sovereignty and attacks continue, Hamas and the residents of Gaza will soon encounter those plans up close — and I advise them against that.”

The Gaza Strip has seen a recent surge in coronavirus cases with one in four tests coming back positive.

On Sunday Netanyahu unveiled a NIS 1 billion ($299 million) aid package for Israeli communities in the region abutting the Gaza Strip, an area that suffers the brunt of rocket and mortar attacks from terror groups on the other side of the border.

The plan is “to strengthen community support networks, strengthen and develop the local economy and strengthen local authorities,” the Prime Minister’s Office said in a statement.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu visits a new coronavirus lab at Ben Gurion International Airport, near Tel Aviv, November 9, 2020. (Ohad Zwigenberg/Pool via AP)

Netanyahu, along with Finance Minister Israel Katz and Interior Minister Aryeh Deri, convened a video conference with council heads from the Gaza envelope area to tell them about the aid package.

“Our vigorous security policy for every attack aimed at us, which found expression just yesterday, is alongside the strengthening of civilian resilience and momentum in the area, which are the true answer to the terrorist organizations,” Netanyahu said.

Katz said that under the plan the government will be able “to improve services to residents by increasing the local authorities’ budgets, expanding activities at the resilience centers and health centers in the communities, and expanding social services and education in the area.”

“We are charged with the responsibility of continuing to provide all of the tools necessary for the authorities in the area to strengthen themselves and succeed,” Deri declared.

Flames are seen following an Israeli airstrike in the town of Khan Yunis, in the southern Gaza Strip, early on November 22, 2020. (SAID KHATIB / AFP)

The Saturday night rocket attack came at roughly 9:30 p.m., setting off sirens in Ashkelon and the industrial zone just south of the city, an area where tens of thousands of people live, the military said.

The rocket fire caused damage to the warehouse in Ashkelon, according to municipal officials. A pregnant woman was injured as she ran for shelter at the time of the siren, the Ynet news site reported. She was said to be in good condition.

The siren gives residents of Ashkelon about 15 seconds warning before rockets from Gaza impact.

Israel’s retaliatory predawn Israeli raids targeted Hamas military installations, the army said, including “two rocket manufacturing sites, underground infrastructure and a training facility for the Hamas terror group’s naval force.”

There were no immediate reports of injuries from the Israeli retaliatory strikes.

Though Israel is involved in ongoing talks with Hamas regarding a long-term ceasefire agreement, recent weeks have seen an uptick in violence emanating from Gaza.

Last Sunday, two rockets were fired at central Israel from the Gaza Strip. The two projectiles struck open areas, causing neither injury nor damage.

The terror group sent messages to Israel that claimed the rockets were fired accidentally, set off by lightning during a thunderstorm, an explanation that the IDF has apparently accepted.

Israel has fought three large campaigns against terror groups in the Strip since Hamas took control of the area in 2007, along with dozens of smaller exchanges of fire.

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