Gaza mortar shell strikes south, prompting IDF strikes on Hamas targets

Projectile hits open field, causing no injuries or damage; resulting sirens send hundreds scrambling for cover, after IDF announces plans to send reinforcements to Gaza border

Illustrative: Rockets are launched from the Gaza Strip toward Israel, November 13, 2019. (AP Photo/Khalil Hamra)
Illustrative: Rockets are launched from the Gaza Strip toward Israel, November 13, 2019. (AP Photo/Khalil Hamra)

Palestinian terrorists fired at least one mortar shell at southern Israel on Wednesday night, striking an open field and causing no injuries or damage, the military said.

In response Israeli aircraft attacked several sites in the Gaza Strip. The army said it hit “Hamas targets including a weapons manufacturing site and underground infrastructure.”

There were no immediate reports of Palestinian casualties.

The mortar attack triggered sirens in the community of Kibbutz Kissufim in the Eshkol region.

An Eshkol spokesperson said an explosion was heard following the sirens and that an impact site was found in an open field outside the community.

There were no reports of injuries or damage.

The attack came a day after US President Donald Trump released his plan to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, which drew staunch denunciations from Palestinian leaders, including the de facto rulers of the Gaza Strip, the Hamas terror group.

Throughout Wednesday, a number of balloon clusters carrying suspected explosive devices that had been launched from the Gaza Strip landed in southern Israel, continuing a trend of these airborne attacks from the enclave over the past few weeks. Police sappers disarmed and removed the objects.

Earlier on Wednesday evening, the military announced it was deploying additional troops to the Gaza border and West Bank amid concerns that Palestinians may respond violently to the peace plan, which was widely seen as being tilted in favor of Israel.

Israeli troops take their position during clashes with Palestinian demonstrators as they protest Middle East peace plan announced Tuesday by US President Donald Trump at Beit El checkpoint, near the West Bank city of Ramallah, Wednesday, Jan 29, 2020 (AP/Majdi Mohammed)

“In accordance with the constant situational assessments being conducted by the IDF, it was decided to reinforce the number of combat troops in the Judea and Samaria Division and Gaza Division,” the military said, using the biblical name for the West Bank.

Palestinians held protests throughout the West Bank and Gaza on Wednesday, though turnout was relatively limited.

In the West Bank, small demonstrations with dozens to hundreds of participants were held in and around the Jordan Valley, Bethlehem, Hebron, Qalqiliya, Tulkarem, Abu Dis, al-Bireh and Ramallah, according to the Palestinian Authority’s Wafa news site.

At least two Palestinians were reportedly injured by live fire during the riots, with several others wounded by rubber bullets and tear gas, according to Wafa.

The military would not specify the exact number of reinforcements being sent. The additional troops being sent to the West Bank would come from the elite Maglan and Egoz commando units, while the Gaza Division would be reinforced with troops from the Golani Brigade’s 51st Battalion, it said.

The decision came after the military sent an additional infantry battalion to the Jordan Valley on Tuesday, ahead of the release of the Trump plan.

On Tuesday, Defense Minister Naftali Bennett instructed the IDF to remain on high alert ahead of the plan’s release and prepare for the possibility of violence, as well as for the threats by the PA to not restrain or disperse rioters in the West Bank.

“The minister instructed the troops to be prepared for the scenario of an immediate escalation [of violence] in light of the presentation of the plan and the agitation of the street, without the cooperation of the Palestinian Authority,” his office said.

Defense Minister Naftali Bennett, left, meets with IDF Chief of Staff Aviv Kohavi, second from left, Judea and Samaria Division commander Brig. Gen. Yaniv Alaluf, center, and other senior IDF officers in the West Bank on January 28, 2020. (Ariel Hermoni/Defense Ministry)

According to unconfirmed reports in Hebrew media, PA President Mahmoud Abbas instructed Palestinian security not to stop protesters from confronting Israeli forces in the West Bank as the US releases the plan.

According to the Ynet news site, Abbas said: “We need to enlist all the young people. Stay out on the streets. We’re going to be on emergency footing in the coming days… Ahead of us are difficult days and we will need to bear the consequences of refusing the agreement.”

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