IDF: Mortar shell fired from Gaza, fails to clear border
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IDF: Mortar shell fired from Gaza, fails to clear border

Army says alarms triggered in Sha’ar Hanegev and Sdot Negev regions by shell that landed inside coastal enclave

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

Illustrative. A picture taken from the Gaza Strip on November 12, 2018, shows missiles being launched toward Israel. (Said KHATIB / AFP)
Illustrative. A picture taken from the Gaza Strip on November 12, 2018, shows missiles being launched toward Israel. (Said KHATIB / AFP)

Air raid sirens sounded in southern Israel on Sunday afternoon, sending residents of nearby communities rushing to bomb shelters, less than a day into a reported ceasefire between Israel and terror groups in the Strip.

There were no reports of injuries or damage.

The Israeli military said the sirens were triggered by the launch of a mortar shell from the Gaza Strip, which failed to clear the border and landed inside the coastal enclave.

It marked the second round of air raid sirens of the day.

Shortly after midnight on Sunday, five rockets were fired at southern Israel, landing in open fields in the Eshkol region, causing neither injury nor damage, officials said.

Israel Defense Forces planes struck at Hamas posts on the border in response, though the Israeli military believed the rockets were likely launched by the Iran-backed Islamic Jihad organization.

The alarms on Sunday afternoon, triggered at 5 p.m., sounded in a number of communities in the Sha’ar Hanegev and Sdot Negev regions.

“A few moments ago, a Code Red rocket siren was heard in a number of communities in the Sha’ar Hanegev region. The circumstances are still being checked,” a spokesperson for the region said.

Despite the rocket fire in the predawn hours of the morning, Israel on Sunday opened the Gaza Strip’s two crossings — the Erez pedestrian crossing and the Kerem Shalom commercial terminal — which were closed last week after a long-range rocket attack struck a home in central Israel, leveling the building and injuring seven people inside.

A fishing ban that had been in place since then was also lifted on Sunday morning.

Israel pledged to reopen the crossing after Hamas reined in a massive border protest on Saturday, under an informal and officially unrecognized ceasefire deal brokered by Egyptian mediators after a violent week in the coastal enclave.

This picture taken on March 30, 2019 from the southern Israeli kibbutz of Nahal Oz across the border from the Gaza Strip, shows Israeli military vehicles keeping position at the border fence, as Palestinians, waving national flags, demonstrate to mark the first anniversary of the “March of Return” protests. (Jack Guez/AFP)

The reopening of the Kerem Shalom and Erez crossings Sunday morning suggests Israeli and Hamas officials are committed to the calm, and means goods will flow once more to Gaza from Israel.

Both sides, Hamas and Israel, expressed satisfaction Saturday with the relative lack of violence during the large protests along the border.

Egyptian mediators, shuttling between Israel and Gaza’s Hamas rulers, have been engaged in exhaustive efforts to broker a long-term ceasefire deal.

Under the Egyptian plan, Israel is to offer economic incentives for Gaza in exchange for calm. These are said to include easing restrictions on imports and exports, extended fishing zones and more.

Hamas officials said the organization’s main aim with the border protests was “to remove the blockade” on Gaza, which Israel and Egypt have enforced since the group took over the territory from Fatah in a violent coup in 2007. Israel says the blockade is necessary to prevent Hamas, a terror group that openly seeks to destroy Israel, from acquiring weapons it will use to attack it.

Fighters from the Al-Quds Brigades, the Islamic Jihad terror group’s military wing, take part in a military march in the town of Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip on November 15, 2018. (Abed Rahim Khatib/ Flash90)

Over 40,000 Palestinians took part in the rallies at the Gaza border Saturday afternoon, with some rioters throwing grenades and explosives toward the security fence as well as lobbing rocks at troops and burning tires.

The enclave’s Hamas-run health ministry said three 17-year-old Palestinians were killed during the protests, while at least 300 were injured. Another Palestinian was shot and killed in the early morning before the main demonstration began, as he took part in a late-night riot along the border.

Most of those hurt were lightly wounded, but three were said to suffer critical injuries.

The army said soldiers responded with “riot dispersal means” as well as live fire in accordance with IDF regulations, noting that most Palestinians attending the one-year anniversary of the “March of Return” protests remained at a distance from the border.

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