Mortars fired at south amid Israeli strikes; no injuries

IDF bombs Gaza sites, including Haniyeh’s office, after rocket hits Israeli home

Israeli military says it conducted dozens of strikes on Hamas targets throughout the coastal enclave, 12 hours after projectile hits house in central Israel, injuring 7

A ball of fire bellows above buildings in Gaza City during Israeli strikes on March 25, 2019. (Mahmud Hams/AFP)
A ball of fire bellows above buildings in Gaza City during Israeli strikes on March 25, 2019. (Mahmud Hams/AFP)

The Israeli military said it bombed dozens of targets throughout the Gaza Strip on Monday evening, including the office of Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh, in response to a rocket fired from the coastal enclave that slammed into a home in central Israel, injuring seven people.

The Israeli Defense Forces began its hours-long bombing campaign shortly after 5:30 p.m., some 12 hours after the initial attack — the farthest reaching rocket strike since the 2014 Gaza war.

Approximately three hours into its bombing campaign, terror groups in the Gaza Strip began launching dozens of mortar shells and rockets at southern Israel, triggering air raid sirens throughout the region, the IDF said.

No injuries were reported. Light damage was caused to a home in the southern town of Sderot.

At least three Palestinians were wounded in the Israeli strikes, according to the Hamas-run Gaza health ministry. The extent of their injuries was not immediately known.

Israeli fighter jets targeted a building used as an office by Haniyeh in the upscale Rimal neighborhood of Gaza City, the military said. The Hamas leader was not in the building at the time, having fled for shelter on Monday morning following the early morning rocket attack on central Israel.

Photographs of the scene showed a large fireball coming from the building, which the IDF said had also been bombed in the 2012 conflict known as Operation Pillar of Defense.

According to Palestinian media, the IDF used the so-called “knock on the roof” technique, in which a non-explosive round is fired at a building to scare off those inside before the real attack.

The Israeli military identified another of its targets in Gaza as a “secret headquarters” of Hamas used by its intelligence services and located in the Sabra neighborhood of Gaza City.

“Fighter jets just now attacked a three-story building in the area of Sabra in the Gaza Strip. This is a secret headquarters of the Hamas terror group, which is used by the internal security, central intelligence and military intelligence branches of the group,” the IDF said in a statement.

Palestinian media said the building, which was leveled in the Israeli attack, belonged to the al-Multazem insurance company.

The Israeli military later released footage of the strike, showing a missile striking the building and triggering a large explosion. A hole in the top of the structure indicated that the air force had also used the “knock on the roof” technique on the building.

“This is a central asset of the Hamas terror group, which is being attacked along with other strikes the IDF is conducting now in the Gaza Strip,” the IDF said.

The military said it was also targeting a five-story building in Rimal that was used by the Hamas terror group’s internal security service.

The IDF also bombed targets in Rimal connected to Hamas’s internal security service last August and November in response to rocket and mortar attacks.

A five-story building in the Rimal neighborhood of Gaza City targeted by IDF aircraft on March 25, 2019, which Israel says was used by the Hamas terror group as an internal security service. (Israel Defense Forces)

Israel began its retaliatory strikes around the same time as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu met US President Donald Trump in Washington. In comments from the White House, Netanyahu said, “Israel is responding forcefully to this wanton aggression.”

The raids began soon after an Egyptian military intelligence delegation left the Strip, where its attempts to broker a ceasefire reportedly failed.

In addition to the three high profile targets, the IDF said it bombed dozens of other Hamas military sites.

“In the attack, military bases, the entrances to tunnels used for weapons smuggling, observation posts and rocket launchpads were bombed,” the IDF said.

The targets were located in Khan Younis, Deir el-Balah, Rafah, Gaza City, al-Shati and Beit Hanoun.

An Israeli helicopter fires at a target in the Gaza Strip in response to a rocket attack earlier in the day on a home in central Israel on March 25, 2019. (Screen capture: Sky News Arabia)

A number of residents of Gaza City relocated their cars next to Shifa Medical Center in hopes the vehicles will not be damaged there, as Israel is unlikely to attack a hospital, a resident of the coastal enclave told The Times of Israel.

With the start of the IDF strikes on Monday evening, cities and towns throughout southern and central Israel opened their public bomb shelters in anticipation of retaliatory attacks from Gaza. As of 6:30 p.m., Tel Aviv, Beersheba, Petah Tikva, Kiryat Gat, Rishon Lezion and other municipalities throughout the country all opened their bomb shelters.

Residents of the Israeli communities closer to Gaza were told to remain within close distance of their bomb shelters and other protected spaces.

The early morning rocket attack largely flattened the home in the town of Mishmeret, northeast of Tel Aviv. Two of the people inside were moderately wounded and five others, including two small children, were lightly injured.

An infant’s swing outside the home of the Wolf family in the central Israeli village of Mishmeret, which was destroyed in the early morning hours of March 25, 2019 by a rocket fired from Gaza. (Jack Guez/AFP)

The rocket strike, which was attributed to Hamas, represented a significant increase in the level of violence from the coastal enclave, following weeks of heightened tensions and border clashes, as well as recent skirmishes in an Israeli jail between Hamas security prisoners and prison guards.

There are fears in Israel that violence will ramp up this week, with Hamas hoping to draw hundreds of thousands of rioters to the fence at the weekend to mark a year of so-called March of Return protests, which began March 30, 2018.

Ahead of its retaliatory strikes, the IDF and local governments rolled out a number of precautionary measures.

Additional Iron Dome air defense batteries were deployed throughout the country.

The military also sent two additional brigades to the Gaza region and called up approximately 1,000 reservists for air defense and other select units.

Israeli communities around Gaza canceled after-school events and were warned against public gatherings of more than 300 people.

Train service from the city of Ashkelon to the Gaza-adjacent town of Sderot was halted “by order of security officials,” Israel Railways said in a statement.

Israeli troops also closed off open areas around the Gaza Strip to civilians, including the trail to the Black Arrow memorial site, which overlooks northern Gaza and was the site of an anti-tank guided missile attack that seriously injured an IDF soldier in November 2018.

“In light of a security assessment and as part of efforts to improve preparedness, the Gaza Division decided to close off some areas and roads near the [Gaza] security fence. In addition, it was decided to halt farm work in the fields adjacent to the security fence,” the army said in a statement.

“Please continue to listen to instructions given by the IDF as necessary.”

Following the early morning rocket strike, Israel also closed its two Gaza crossings — Kerem Shalom, which is used for goods, and the pedestrian Erez Crossing — until further notice, Israel’s military liaison to the Palestinians Maj. Gen. Kamil Abu Rukun said.

Abu Rukun, known as Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories, also announced Monday that Israel would be restricting the permitted fishing zone around the coastal Gaza Strip in light of the attack.

IDF Spokesperson Ronen Manelis said the military held Hamas responsible for the rocket attack, noting that the projectile used in the strike was manufactured by the organization and that it was fired from one of Hamas’s launchpads in the southern Gaza city of Rafah.

The Gaza-ruling Hamas told the Egyptian military intelligence delegation that the rocket had been fired mistakenly, according to a report on the Arabic-language Al-Arabiya television network. The terror group made similar claims of an “accident” about a rocket attack on Tel Aviv earlier this month and one that hit a home in Beersheba in October.

Robert Wolf, right, whose home in the central Israeli village of Mishmeret was destroyed in a Gaza rocket attack on March 25, 2019, wounding seven people, speaks to Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon, left, who visited the site after the attack. (Video screen capture/Israel Hayom)

Manelis did not respond to the reports of an accidental launch. “We are not commenting on our intelligence assessments at this time,” another IDF spokesperson said.

Following the rocket attack, Palestinian terror groups began evacuating their positions throughout the Gaza Strip ahead of expected Israeli counterstrikes.

The head of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad, Ziyad al-Nakhalah, warned Israel against conducting a counterattack, saying “we caution the Zionist enemy against carrying out attacks against the Gaza Strip. [Israel’s] leaders must know that we will respond forcefully to their aggression.”

AFP contributed to this report.

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