Gazans fire rocket into Israel, breaking lull in violence amid virus outbreak

IDF strikes Hamas targets after projectile launch towards southern town of Sderot triggers first red alerts in weeks; no injuries or damage reported

Jacob Magid is The Times of Israel's US correspondent based in New York

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)

Terrorists in the Gaza Strip fired a rocket toward Israeli territory, triggering warning sirens in the southern town of Sderot and the surrounding area on Friday evening, the Israel Defense Forces said in a statement.

A regional spokesman said the projectile apparently fell in an open area and there were no injuries or damage.

The IDF retaliated later Friday night.

“IDF aircraft and a tank a short time ago attacked military positions and infrastructure used for underground activity belonging to the Hamas terror group in the northern Gaza Strip,” the IDF said. “The attacks were carried out in response to rocket fire launched from the Strip toward Israeli territory earlier in the evening.”

This was the first red alert siren to go off since March 12 when one was triggered in Kibbutz Re’im near the Gaza border, though the IDF subsequently confirmed that it had been a false alarm.

A week earlier, terrorists in the Hamas-run coastal enclave fired a rocket toward Israel, which fell short of the border and landed inside the Palestinian enclave, the IDF said.

For the past three weeks, a period of calm had been holding in Gaza as authorities on both sides of the border have focused on combating the outbreak of the coronavirus.

Members of the Palestinian Ministry of Health in partnership with the World Health Organisation (WHO), set up outdoor tents for the preliminary medical examination of suspected coronavirus patients at the Rafah border crossing with Egypt in the southern Gaza Strip on March 12, 2020. (Said Khatib/AFP)

The Gaza Strip on Sunday reported its first two cases of the virus — two residents who had returned from Pakistan. The number climbed to nine on Wednesday, but has held since, according to the Hamas-run health ministry.  The seven newly infected individuals were all “security men” and said they were among the roughly 30 who had come into contact with the Pakistan returnees.

A total of 1,568 people in Gaza were being held in more than 20 quarantine facilities, while 1,205 were isolated in their homes, the health ministry said last week.

Health experts have warned that an outbreak in Gaza would prove particularly deadly given the severe crowdedness and weakness of the healthcare system.

Last month, Israel and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad fought a two-day battle in and around the Strip, in which over 100 rockets and mortar shells were fired at southern Israel and the IDF retaliated with airstrikes against the organization’s facilities in Gaza and — in a highly irregular move — in Syria.

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