IDF blames Hamas for rocket that hit Israeli home, sends troops to Gaza border
Hamas official says group investigating who fired the rocket

IDF blames Hamas for rocket that hit Israeli home, sends troops to Gaza border

Two additional brigades sent to border area, air defense reservists called up ahead of expected clashes following direct hit on central Israeli home that injured 7

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

Israeli soldiers stand guard on a road near the Israel-Gaza border in southern Israel, on March 25, 2019. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)
Israeli soldiers stand guard on a road near the Israel-Gaza border in southern Israel, on March 25, 2019. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

The Israeli military deployed two additional brigades to the Gaza region and called up reservists for air defense units following a rocket attack that struck a home in central Israel, injuring seven people, including two infants.

IDF Spokesperson Ronen Manelis said the rocket was fired from a Hamas launchpad in the southern Gaza town of Rafah. He did not respond to reports that the projectile had been launched by Hamas accidentally.

“We are not commenting on our intelligence assessments at this time,” another IDF spokesperson said.

Following the rocket attack, IDF Chief of Staff Aviv Kohavi conducted a situational assessment with the head of the Shin Bet security service and other senior defense officials.

In a photo released by the Israel Defense Forces on February 26, 2019, Chief of Staff Aviv Kohavi (2nd-L) speaks with soldiers taking part in a snap drill at the Tzeelim base in southern Israel simulating a future military conflict in the Gaza Strip. (Israel Defense Forces)

After the meeting, Kohavi ordered the two reinforcement brigades be sent to the Gaza Division, representing over 1,000 additional soldiers deployed to the area, a significant troop increase.

The two brigades — the Golani Infantry Brigade and the 7th Armored Brigade — had been conducting training exercises, which were cut short in light of the rocket attack.

A small number of reservists were also called in to serve on Iron Dome missile defense systems and other select units, the army said.

The Israel Defense Forces refused to comment directly on why its air defense systems had failed to intercept the incoming rocket, but indicated that it was because an Iron Dome battery had not been deployed in the area.

The military said the rocket that struck the home in the central Israeli town of Mishmeret was a variety produced by Hamas, known as a J80, which has a range of 120 kilometers (75 miles).

Hamas did not immediately comment on the rocket attack publicly, but an official from the group told The Times of Israel that the terrorist organization was investigating who fired the projectile, indicating that it had not been done with approval of senior leadership.

The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, added that Hamas has no interest in a large-scale conflict with Israel at this time.

“An Egyptian security delegation was supposed to come today,” the official said. “Hamas does not have an interest in firing a rocket at Israel before its arrival.”

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

Israeli military officials met with the heads of local governments in the communities around the Gaza Strip to prepare them for the planned retaliatory strikes against terrorist targets in the coastal enclave — and the expected Palestinian responses to these counterattacks.

Senior Israeli officials told reporters on Monday that a forceful retaliation to the early morning rocket attack was forthcoming, but it appeared to be delayed by Egyptian attempts to broker a ceasefire and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s ongoing visit to the United States.

Israeli troops began closing off open areas around the Gaza Strip to civilians ahead of the expected renewed violence in the border region.

Soldiers could be seen shutting gates leading 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, and other locations near the Strip.

“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.”

In light of the 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.

The early morning attack on Mishmeret, located over 100 kilometers (60 miles) from the southern tip of the Gaza Strip from where the rocket was fired, represented a significant increase in the level of violence from the coastal enclave, following weeks of heightened tensions and border clashes, as well as skirmishes in Israeli jails between Palestinian security prisoners and prison guards.

This attack on Mishmeret was the farthest-reaching rocket attack from the enclave since the 2014 Gaza war.

Israeli security forces inspect the scene of a house that was hit by a rocket fired from the Gaza Strip in the town of Mishmeret in central Israel on March 25, 2019. (Noam Revkin Fenton/Flash90)

There are fears 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.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who is currently in the US for the annual AIPAC conference, cut his trip short and planned to return to Israel, following a meeting with US President Donald Trump later in the day.

Screen capture of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in a Hebrew-language video released by his office from Washington on March 25, 2019, telling Israelis he would be heading back home following a Gaza rocket attack earlier in the day. (Courtesy PMO)

“There was a criminal attack on the State of Israel, and we will respond forcefully,” Netanyahu said in a statement, following a discussion with the IDF chief of staff, national security adviser, head of the Shin Bet security service and other senior defense officials.

Following the attack, candidates from across the political spectrum lambasted Netanyahu’s Gaza policies and demanding a forceful response to the rocket attack.

The Gaza-ruling Hamas reportedly told an Egyptian military intelligence delegation that the rocket had been fired mistakenly. 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.

Members of the Iran-backed Palestinian Islamic Jihad terror group march during a military parade in Gaza City, October 4, 2018. (Anas Baba/AFP Photo)

Following the attack, 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.”

The rocket was fired from the Gaza Strip shortly after 5 a.m., hitting the residential building, injuring seven people, including two infants, and leveling the structure, officials said.

Police said the projectile caused the building to catch fire, and shrapnel from the rocket attack also caused significant damage to the surrounding area, as fragments hit a gas tank outside the building.

Police inspect a home in the central Israeli town of Mishmeret that was destroyed in a rocket attack from the Gaza Strip on March 25, 2019. (Israel Police)

A 59-year-old woman was moderately injured in the attack, with light burns, shrapnel wounds and trauma from the blast. A 30-year-old woman was also moderately wounded, with shrapnel hitting her leg. The other people in the building — a 30-year-old man, 12-year-old girl, 3-year-old boy and 18-month-old baby — sustained light wounds, MDA said.

The injured were all members of the Wolf family, who lived in two housing units connected by a hallway. They were taken to Kfar Saba’s Meir Medical Center for treatment. Several others in the area were treated for anxiety attacks and light injuries from falling while running to bomb shelters.

A home in the central Israeli town of Mishmeret, which was destroyed in a rocket attack from the Gaza Strip on March 25, 2019. (Fired and Rescue Services)

Two dogs belonging to the family were also killed in the rocket strike.

Schools in the Sharon region opened as usual Monday despite the attack, though the Education Ministry said teachers would hold a special session with students to discuss the issue.

Recent weeks have seen escalating tensions in the Gaza Strip, as its de facto rulers the Hamas terror group feuds with both Israel and the West Bank-based Palestinian Authority. Domestically, the terror group has also faced protests and increased criticism as humanitarian conditions in the Strip continue to deteriorate.

On Sunday night, an Israeli tank targeted two Hamas posts along the Gaza border, following a number of cross-border attacks throughout the day, the military said. On Saturday night, Israeli military aircraft bombed Hamas targets in Gaza after a rocket alarm sounded in some Israeli communities bordering the Strip, triggered by a powerful improvised bomb thrown at the border during late-night riots. A Palestinian was killed by Israeli fire during the clashes early Sunday, authorities in the Strip said. The 24-year-old man was fatally shot in the chest and two others were wounded, the Hamas-run health ministry said.

Israel says the demonstrations, night-time riots, airborne explosive and incendiary attacks are orchestrated by Hamas in order to provide cover for the organization’s nefarious activities along the security fence, including infiltration attempts, the planting of explosives and attacks on Israeli soldiers.

Their organizers have said the protests aim to achieve the “return” of Palestinian refugees and their descendants to lands that are now part of Israel, and pressure the Jewish state to lift its restrictions on the movement of people and goods into and out of the coastal enclave.

Israeli officials say the return of Palestinian refugees and their descendants would destroy Israel’s Jewish character. They also maintain that the restrictions on movement are in place to prevent Hamas and other terrorist groups from smuggling weapons into the Strip.

Adam Rasgon contributed to this report.

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