IDF prepares for more, longer-range rockets from Gaza as tense calm resumes

Military changes deployment of Iron Dome air defense system, although prevailing assessment is that latest round of violence is over; Netanyahu to convene security cabinet Sunday

Illustrative: Israeli soldiers stand near a battery of the Iron Dome missile defense system deployed in Tel Aviv on January 24, 2019. (Menahem Kahana/AFP)
Illustrative: Israeli soldiers stand near a battery of the Iron Dome missile defense system deployed in Tel Aviv on January 24, 2019. (Menahem Kahana/AFP)

The Israel Defense Forces is preparing for a scenario in which Palestinian terror groups will continue to launch rockets at Israeli communities following a weekend of violence, and perhaps even increase their range to target bigger cities.

Ten rockets were fired from Gaza into Israel Friday night, one of which struck a home in the southern city of Sderot. The rockets set off warning sirens in Sderot and other communities in Israel’s south as many families were gathering for Shabbat dinner.

Israel responded with airstrikes on Hamas targets in Gaza, which reportedly killed one Palestinian and wounded two others.

But despite the prevailing assessment within the the military that the latest escalation is over, it is taking no risks and has changed the deployment the Iron Dome air defense system as well as other troops in preparation for more rockets at a longer range, Hebrew-language media reported Saturday night and Sunday.

Third-party mediators also reached out to both Israeli and Gaza officials in a bid to ease tensions.

Unite Nations Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process Nikolay Mladenov, who has been a significant intermediary between Jerusalem and Gaza in the past two years, was due to visit the coastal enclave this week, for instance.

However, calm seemed to be returning to the area Sunday morning, and authorities told the local population to resume their routine activities.

A man checks a car damaged by shrapnel from a rocket fired from Gaza into Sderot, Israel, November 1, 2019. (AP Photo/Tsafrir Abayov)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who is also defense minister, held a discussion over the weekend with security chiefs to prepare a response, and the security cabinet is set to convene on Sunday at 1:30 p.m. to discuss the latest developments.

Sderot Mayor Alon Davidi called Saturday for a large-scale military operation in Gaza “including the elimination of Hamas leaders.” He said residents “have lived in this reality of ‘normalized emergency’ for nearly two years, and it’s long past time it was put to an end.”

MK Yair Lapid, No. 2 in the Blue and White party, and Yisrael Beytenu chief Avigdor Liberman on Saturday both blamed Netanyahu for the latest rocket fire.

The Israel Defense Forces said seven rockets were fired in the initial barrage Friday, all of which were intercepted by the Iron Dome anti-rocket defense system.

About an hour later, another three rockets were fired into Israel and the Iron Dome intercepted one. One of the rockets hit a home, causing serious damage but no injuries.

The IDF said its retaliatory strikes hit “a wide range” of Hamas targets, including a naval base, a military compound and a weapons manufacturing plant.

Following the strikes, the Gaza-ruling Hamas and Islamic Jihad terror organizations warned Israel of possible consequences.

Meanwhile, an unnamed senior Hamas figure told Haaretz the rocket launches were carried out without Hamas’s approval and were not the work of one of the major Palestinian factions.

Palestinians walk around a crater caused by an Israeli airstrike launched in response to rocket fire, in Khan Younis in the southern Gaza Strip, November 2, 2019. (Said Khatib/AFP)

Quoting Palestinian sources, Israel’s Channel 13 news reported that Hamas distanced itself from the rocket fire and told Egyptian mediators it was probing who was responsible.

There have been repeated bouts of violence between Hamas and Israel over the past year as the Islamists have sought to improve on the terms of a UN- and Egyptian-brokered truce first hammered out in November last year.

In return for Hamas silencing the rockets, Israel agreed to a package of measures to ease the crippling blockade it has imposed on Gaza — together with Egypt — for more than a decade, since Hamas, which openly seeks Israel’s destruction, took over the territory in a bloody coup. Israel maintains the blockade is necessary to prevent arms from entering Gaza that could be used to attack the Jewish state.

The measure included allowing in millions of dollars in aid from Hamas ally Qatar to pay for fuel for the territory’s sole power station and cash for salaries and grants to tens of thousands of needy families.

The truce has also seen Israel expand the distance it allows Gaza fishermen out into the Mediterranean — although it reduces it or even cuts it to zero in response to violence from the enclave.

The concessions authorized by Netanyahu have been criticized by his opponents, including by prime minister-designate Benny Gantz.

Adam Rasgon and AFP contributed to this report.

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