Gaza rocket strikes field in south, as Israel threatens harsh response
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Gaza rocket strikes field in south, as Israel threatens harsh response

No injuries or damage as sirens send thousands to bomb shelters, following week-and-a-half of near-daily attacks from Gaza

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

Illustrative: Rockets are launched from the Gaza Strip towards Israel, November 13, 2019. (AP/ Hatem Moussa)
Illustrative: Rockets are launched from the Gaza Strip towards Israel, November 13, 2019. (AP/ Hatem Moussa)

Incoming rocket sirens sent thousands of Israelis rushing to bomb shelters in the southern town of Sderot and the surrounding area on Sunday night.

The Israel Defense Forces said it had identified a rocket launch from Gaza. The projectile reportedly hit an open field. There were no reports of injuries or damage.

Earlier on Sunday, Israeli politicians threatened a harsh military response if attacks from the Gaza Strip continued. The past two weeks has seen near-daily rocket and mortar attacks from the Strip, as terrorists in the Strip have also launched dozens of balloon-borne explosive devices into southern Israel from Gaza.

“I want to make this clear: We won’t accept any aggression from Gaza. Just a few weeks ago, we took out the top commander of Islamic Jihad in Gaza, and I suggest that Islamic Jihad and Hamas refresh their memories,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said, at the opening of the weekly cabinet meeting at his office in Jerusalem on Sunday.

“I won’t lay out in detail all our actions and plans in the media, but we’re prepared for crushing action against the terror groups in Gaza. Our actions are powerful, and they’re not finished yet, to put it mildly,” Netanyahu said.

Defense Minister Naftali Bennett similarly issued a warning to Hamas leaders in Gaza, warning that Israel would take “lethal action against them” if their “irresponsible behavior” didn’t cease.

“We won’t announce when or where. This action will be very different from those taken in the past. No one will be immune. Hamas faces a choice: choose life and economic prosperity, or choose terror and pay an unbearable price. Their actions will determine [which it will be],” he said.

In response to the rocket attacks, all of which have struck open fields in southern Israel, the IDF has conducted strikes on Hamas targets in the Gaza Strip.

Israeli defense officials believe that the Gaza-ruling Hamas terror group is trying to increase pressure on Israel in a bid to extract greater concessions in ongoing ceasefire negotiations.

Fears have also mounted in recent days of an escalation of violence in Gaza and the West Bank following the release last week of a US peace plan that is seen as heavily favoring Israel and which Palestinian leaders have rejected.

On Saturday night, Palestinian terrorists in Gaza fired at least one rocket into southern Israel, striking an open field.

According to the Sha’ar Hanegev regional council, the projectile caused neither injury nor damage.

In response, IDF tanks shelled two Hamas positions in the northern Gaza Strip, the military said.

Earlier on Saturday, a suspected explosive device attached to a cluster of balloons that was apparently launched from Gaza was found in a field in the Merhavim Regional Council.

A group of foreign workers who were reportedly not aware the object could be a bomb picked up the balloons, but the device luckily did not explode.

The day before, terrorists in the Strip launched what appeared to be the warhead from a rocket-propelled grenade attached to balloons into southern Israel.

Suspected explosive device found attached to balloons in the city of Ashkelon, February 5, 2020. (Israel Police)

In total, at least six suspected explosive devices launched from Gaza were found in the south over the course of Friday.

In one of the instances, Route 3 in the south of the country was temporarily closed while sappers dealt with a suspicious object that appeared to have become detached from balloons.

There were no reports of injuries or damage. Police called on the public to alert authorities to any suspicious-looking objects and to refrain from approaching them.

Palestinian terrorists in the Gaza Strip began flying explosive and incendiary devices into Israel using clusters of balloons and kites beginning in 2018. The practice has waxed and waned over time, but has picked up considerably in recent weeks, with dozens of these balloon-borne bombs landing in towns and farming communities adjacent to the Palestinian enclave.

On Thursday, IDF Chief of Staff Aviv Kohavi said the military would take a tougher stand against the airborne attacks, along with other types of terrorist activities.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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