A rocket attack on southern Israel Tuesday night — seemingly timed to coincide with the signing of a historic diplomatic agreement with two Gulf states — was widely condemned, with Israel’s defense minister calling it a stark reminder of the threats Israel faces, even as it makes peace with regional neighbors in Washington.
Two people were injured and several more treated for shock after one of the rockets, seemingly fired out of Gaza, slammed into a street in Ashdod. A second projectile fired at Ashkelon was downed by Israeli defenses.
“On a historic night of peace, we have received a reminder from our enemies that we must always be strong and prepared to defend Israel’s residents in every arena and at any time,” Defense Minister Benny Gantz said.
The attack came just as a ceremony was taking place in Washington, DC, to mark the establishment of ties between Israel and the United Arab Emirates and between Israel and Bahrain. Palestinians vociferously objected to both deals, which they described as a form of betrayal.
It was not clear who had fired the projectiles, though a spokesman for the Hamas terror group later said that in response to the normalization agreements between Israel and the Gulf states, “Our people insists on continuing its struggle until it secures the return of all its rights.”
Aaron Klein, an adviser to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, painted Iran as having spurred the attack.
“Gaza terrorist cowards are desperately launching rockets at Jews because they know this new era of peace will isolate their paymasters in Tehran,” he wrote on Twitter. “Iran-backed terrorists are not going to stop peace for one sec[ond] as the children of Abraham come together to forge the path of real peace.”
Yisrael Beytenu party chief Avgidor Liberman, a former defense minister who has consistently criticized Netanyahu’s policies in Gaza, tweeted: “While Bibi celebrates in Washington, Hamas celebrates in Ashdod and Ashkelon.”
“Peace for now remains in Washington, while rockets are launched at Ashdod and Ashkelon,” said MK Hila Shay Vazan of Blue and White.
In Washington, US ambassador to Israel David Friedman described the attack as “terrible.”
“The job is not over, there’s more work to do. Those that threaten Israel should know that our resolve to combat terror has not been diminished.”
The Netherlands’s Ambassador to Israel Hans Docter said he was “angry about the rockets,” adding in a tweet that “violence does not solve anything. It only leads to more violence.”
The rocket launch appeared to end an extended period of calm, following a ceasefire reached late last month that ended nearly two weeks of daily arson and rocket attacks and Israeli reprisal raids.
According to the Israel Defense Forces, soldiers operating the Iron Dome missile defense system intercepted one of the incoming projectiles. The second rocket struck a street in Ashdod, lightly damaging it and nearby storefronts and knocking down a tree.
Security camera footage from the scene showed the moment of impact, as the rocket exploded as it slammed into the street.
The Magen David Adom ambulance service said one man, 62, was moderately injured, sustaining shrapnel wounds to his upper body from the rocket. The second man, 28, suffered light injuries to his extremities from broken glass. Four other people suffered anxiety attacks as a result of the rocket fire, medics said.
The two men were taken to Ashdod’s Assuta Medical Center for treatment, MDA said.
Terror groups in the Strip have in the past attempted to interrupt major Israeli festivities with attacks.
Qatar, Egypt and the United Nations brokered an unofficial ceasefire agreement between Israel and terror groups in the Strip last month, following weeks of heightened tensions between the two sides.
Judah Ari Gross and Aaron Boxerman contributed to this report.