Gaza rocket barrage appears to target ceremony for captured soldier
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Gaza rocket barrage appears to target ceremony for captured soldier

Video from scene shows family members of fallen sergeant Oron Shaul taking cover during concert marking his 24th birthday

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

Three rockets fired from the Gaza Strip at Israel on Friday appeared to have been launched to deliberately coincide with a ceremony marking what would have been the 24th birthday of an IDF soldier who was killed in 2014, and whose remains are held by Hamas.

A military official could not yet say that this was definitively the case, as the army was still investigating the issue, but said it “absolutely could be,” noting the uncommon timing of the attack.

Israeli take cover during a rocket attack siren warning at Kibbutz Kfar Aza near the Israel and Gaza border, Israel, Friday, Dec. 29, 2017. Israelis had gathered there to mark a birthday of Oron Shaul, who was killed during the last war in Gaza; Hamas holds his remains. (AP Photo/Tsafrir Abayov)

In general, terrorist groups fire their rockets under the cover of darkness, rather than in broad daylight, as in Friday’s launches.

Three rockets were fired at the Sha’ar Hanegev and Sdot Hanegev regions of southern Israel on Friday afternoon. Two of them were intercepted by the Iron Dome missile defense system, while the third struck near a building in a community in the area, causing damage.

באמצע טקס לציון יום הולדת 24 לאורון שאול ז״ל ״צבע אדום״. לאחר מכן אמרתי על הבמה שהיינו חייבים להמשיך בטקס. בשביל אורון

Posted by ‎חיים ילין – Haim Jelin‎ on Friday, 29 December 2017

The military censor did not allow the exact location of the strike to be published, as it could assist terrorist groups in fine-tuning their targeting for future attacks.

The launches were also directed toward the area where the ceremony was being held, at Kibbutz Kfar Aza, overlooking the place where Staff Sergeant Oron Shaul was killed in the 2014 Gaza war.

Sgt. Oron Shaul, whose death in Gaza on July 20, 2014 was formally confirmed by the IDF on July 25, 2014 (Photo credit: Courtesy)

The time and location of the event were publicized ahead of time.

Yesh Atid MK Haim Jelin, a former head of a regional council just outside Gaza who was at the ceremony, filmed the event for a Facebook Live video. The ceremony was attended by dozens of people, including a number of politicians.

The barrage came just after a musical performance, setting off loudspeakers in the area, which blared, “Code Red. Code Red,” the term for an incoming rocket attack.

Zehava Shaul, whose son Oron’s remains are being held by the Hamas terrorist group in Gaza, is led away from a ceremony in his honor after rockets are launched at Israel from the coastal enclave on December 29, 2017. (Screen capture)

Far from bomb shelters, Jelin and the other members of the audience took cover on the grass, lying on the ground with their hands over their heads.

In the video, Oron Shaul’s clearly distraught mother Zehava could be seen being escorted away.

The loud blasts of the rockets being intercepted by the Iron Dome missile defense system could be heard in the video, though they could not be seen because of heavy cloud cover.

In the video, one member of the audience could be heard shouting in anger, saying repeatedly that Israel should “conquer Gaza.”

An organizer of the event called for everyone to keep calm and to make their way back to the kibbutz’s bomb shelters.

However, Jelin and others said the ceremony should continue “for Oron’s sake.”

In a statement, Labor Party chief Avi Gabbay, who attended the event, said he was “filled with pride” that the ceremony went forward despite the attack.

Israeli take cover during a rocket attack siren warning at Kibbutz Kfar Aza near the Israel and Gaza border, Israel, Friday, Dec. 29, 2017. Israelis had gathered there to mark a birthday of Oron Shaul, who was killed during the last war in Gaza; Hamas holds his remains. (AP Photo/Tsafrir Abayov)

Shortly after the rocket barrage, the Israel Defense Forces retaliated by attacking two Hamas positions with tank shelling and strikes from aircraft.

The rocket attack was the first such incident since December 18.

Police said one rocket that wasn’t shot down by the Iron Dome system was found outside a building that had sustained damaged from the impact. There were no reports of casualties.

This month saw two weeks of near-daily rocket launches, the largest incidence of missile-fire from the Strip since the 2014 Israel-Hamas war. These daily attacks had recently seemed to have come to an end.

According to Israeli assessments, the rockets are not being launched by Hamas, but by other terrorist groups in the Strip. However, analysts have noted that Hamas has been either unwilling or unable to clamp down on the groups, as it has in the past.

A Palestinian wave his national flag while passing by a billboard bearing a portrait of slain Israeli soldier Oron Shaul, at the main road in Gaza City, Friday, Dec. 29, 2017. The Arabic reads “As long as our heroes do not see freedom and light … This prisoner will never see freedom”. Oron Shaul was killed during the last war in Gaza and Hamas is holding his remains. (AP Photo/Adel Hana)

Protesting Trump’s December 6 declaration that Jerusalem is the Israeli capital, terror group Hamas, which runs Gaza and seeks Israel’s destruction, has called for a new intifada and vowed to liberate Jerusalem.

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