Gaza-area mayors slam ‘failed containment policy,’ demand unity government

As Netanyahu and Bennett vow to forcefully deter rocket fire, local leaders lash the politicians’ ‘game of musical chairs’ while southern residents ‘go to sleep afraid’

Israelis take cover during an air-raid warning siren in Sderot, southern Israel, November 12, 2019. (AP Photo/Tsafrir Abayov)
Israelis take cover during an air-raid warning siren in Sderot, southern Israel, November 12, 2019. (AP Photo/Tsafrir Abayov)

Slamming Israel’s “failed containment policy” in Gaza, a group of mayors from councils and towns near the Gaza Strip on Sunday called for the establishment of an “emergency unity government” and lashed the heads of Israel’s two largest political factions in the wake of the latest rocket fire from Gaza.

“Under the failed containment policy, 80,000 Israeli citizens went to bed last night afraid,” the mayors’ statement charges.

“Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Blue and White chairman Benny Gantz — we demand that you make the safety of Israel’s citizens your top priority. End this game of musical chairs and form an emergency unity government. Our lives are not forfeit!”

The statement adds: “We demand that you come down to meet us, the mayors of the Gaza-envelope regional councils and Sderot, today.”

IDF Chief of Staff Aviv Kohavi meets with the mayors of Gaza-adjacent towns on December 6, 2019. (Israel Defense Forces)

Israel’s Iron Dome missile defense system intercepted three rockets fired from the Gaza Strip at southern Israel on Saturday night, according to the IDF.

No Palestinian group claimed responsibility for the rocket fire, but Israel generally holds Hamas, the enclave’s de facto ruler, responsible for all attacks emanating from the Strip. There were no reports of injuries or damage caused by the rockets or shrapnel from the interceptions.

Videos from southern Israel appeared to show the launch of Iron Dome interceptor missiles exploding in the sky, apparently as they shot down the incoming rockets. The rocket fire triggered sirens in villages and towns along the Gaza border, sending residents rushing from their beds into nearby bomb shelters.

Blue and White party leader Benny Gantz meets with Sderot Mayor Alon Davidi on November 13, 2019. (Elad Malka)

Neither Likud’s Netanyahu nor Blue and White’s Gantz has been able to cobble together a parliamentary majority in order to form a government in the wake of the last two elections, which took place April 9 and September 17. The Knesset has less than four days to the deadline for forming a unity government before a third election in a single year is triggered. The two major parties have been unable to agree on a power-sharing arrangement for such a government.

On Sunday, Netanyahu and Defense Minister Naftali Bennett both vowed there would be a powerful military response to the rocket fire.

Speaking at a conference organized by the Makor Rishon newspaper, Netanyahu said, “We’re taking care of the threat from Gaza. If we must, we will carry out a major operation to contain this terror once and for all. They got a small taste of that a few weeks ago. I don’t recommend that they stick around for the next course. It is sure to come if they continue. There won’t be any arrangement [to ease the blockade] if the fire doesn’t stop for good.”

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks at the conference of the Israeli newspaper “Makor Rishon” at the International Convention Center in Jerusalem, December 8, 2019. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

At the weekly cabinet meeting later in Jerusalem, Netanyahu warned that he had ordered the army to prepare for a major operation in Gaza.

“What [Gaza terror groups] experienced three weeks ago in Operation Black Belt, when we took out the head of Islamic Jihad and dozens of the organization’s operatives, is just an appetizer. I ordered the defense minister and the IDF to prepare appropriately. I won’t give details of our plans. We will continue to do anything it takes to ensure Israel’s security.”

In his own speech at the Makor Rishon conference on Sunday, Defense Minister Naftali Bennett also vowed to “change the equation” in Gaza.

“In Gaza, we must create a new situation in which our enemies understand that you don’t shoot at the State of Israel, and anyone who shoots will suffer for it. We have to change the equation: no more shooting at Jews.”

Bennett blamed Iran for the fire, saying: “Iran is trying to establish a ring of rocket fire around us. We must pivot from curbing them to attacking them. If we are determined, we will be able to remove Iran’s forces of aggression from Syria. We will turn Syria into Iran’s Vietnam. They will wallow in their own blood.”

In apparent criticism of his predecessors, Bennett added: “Our enemies have gotten used to being able to fire at Israel. We need to change that… What we’ll do, we’ll do at the right time, in the right way and with might.”

New Defense Minister Naftali Bennett (R) meets with IDF Chief of Staff Aviv Kohavi on November 13, 2019. (Ariel Hermoni/Defense Ministry

The Israeli Air Force carried out a series of strikes in the Gaza Strip early Sunday in retaliation for the rocket fire.

At least three rounds of airstrikes were reported in the northern Gaza Strip, according to the Hamas-linked Shehab news agency and other Palestinian news outlets.

The IDF confirmed that it struck “several terror targets, including a Hamas terror camp made up of: warehouses, offices and watch posts.”

It said it also hit a Hamas naval installation. Positions belonging to Hamas’s armed Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades near Jabaliya and Gaza City were targeted, according to Shehab. Two people were reportedly injured in the strikes, Palestinians reported.

The rocket attack and reprisal capped a tense weekend along the Gaza border.

Some 4,000 Palestinians took part in protests along the Gaza border on Friday, with several hundred rioting and throwing rocks and explosive devices at IDF troops, who responded with tear gas and occasional live fire. The Hamas-run Gaza health ministry said 27 Palestinians were injured in the demonstrations.

Palestinian rioters clash with Israeli troops during a protest along the border with Israel east of Bureij in the central Gaza Strip on December 6, 2019. (MAHMUD HAMS / AFP)

On Saturday, Israeli fighter jets were scrambled to fly over the Gaza Strip after suspicious activity was detected in the enclave, Israeli officials said without elaborating.

Judah Ari Gross contributed to this report.

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