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IDF sends reinforcements to Gaza border as Hamas issues ultimatum on Jerusalem

As tensions simmer in the capital, terrorists in the Strip fire a mortar shell toward southern Israel, airborne arson attacks spark fires

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

A Palestinian burns tires during a demonstration along the Israel-Gaza border, east of Khan Younis in the southern Gaza Strip on May 8, 2021 (SAID KHATIB / AFP)
A Palestinian burns tires during a demonstration along the Israel-Gaza border, east of Khan Younis in the southern Gaza Strip on May 8, 2021 (SAID KHATIB / AFP)

The Israel Defense Forces said it was sending reinforcements to the Gaza Division on Monday as terror groups in the Strip threatened to step up their attacks in light of growing unrest in Jerusalem.

Shortly after the military announced the move, terrorists in the enclave fired a mortar shell toward southern Israel, which failed to clear the border and landed inside the Strip, the IDF said.

The military also announced it was closing down a number of roads and sites around Gaza, as well as train service in the area, fearing that they may come under attack shortly. Air traffic in and out of Israel was diverted away from the Strip, with planes traveling on flight paths to the north of Ben Gurion International Airport.

The city of Ashkelon opened its public bomb shelters on Monday evening as a precautionary measure, its mayor Tomer Glam said.

The Hamas terror group threatened Israel with an ultimatum on Monday afternoon, saying all Israeli security forces had to be removed from the Temple Mount and the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood of East Jerusalem by 6 p.m., or else the so-called “joint operations room” — a body representing the various terror groups in the Strip — would attack.

On Monday morning, Palestinian terrorists fired three rockets toward the southern town of Sderot and surrounding communities, one of which was shot down. The other two apparently struck open fields, causing neither damage nor injury.

Recent days have also seen a major return of balloon-borne incendiary and explosive devices being launched from Gaza, burning large swaths of southern Israel.

An Israeli firefighter attempts to extinguish a fire caused by an incendiary balloon launched by Palestinians from the Gaza Strip on May 9, 2021. (AP Photo/Tsafrir Abayov)

The Israeli military is concerned that Hamas, the Palestinian Islamic Jihad and other terror groups in the Strip may increase their attacks on southern Israel in light of the growing tensions.

Due to those concerns, the IDF halted train service between Beersheba and Ashkelon, closed Zikim beach just north of the Strip and barred visitors from lookout points on hilltops near the Gaza border.

In addition, the military closed off the Route 4 highway from Zikim to Kibbutz Nir Am, the Route 34 highway from Yad Mordechai to Kibbutz Erez, and the Route 232 highway from Mefalsim to the Kfar Aza Junction.

“We stress that you should not stop on the shoulders of the roadways during travels through the Gaza periphery for personal safety reasons,” the military said.

During previous rounds of fighting in the Gaza Strip, anti-tank guided missiles were fired at Israeli vehicles traveling on roads in the area. Since then, Israel has built a number of fortifications to protect the roadways around Gaza, but some areas remain vulnerable to attack from the Strip.

Recent weeks have seen a significant rise in violence from Gaza, with increased rocket fire and airborne arson attacks. Palestinian terror groups have tied the attacks to unrest in Jerusalem connected to both prayer on the Temple Mount during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan and the pending eviction of a number of Palestinian families from their homes in East Jerusalem’s Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood.

Monday saw major clashes between Palestinians and Israeli security forces in the Old City of Jerusalem, as well as many rock-throwing attacks by Palestinians against Israeli civilians. Hundreds of Palestinians were injured by Israeli security forces during the riots, along with dozens of police officers and a small number of Israeli civilians.

In response to the recent violence from Gaza, Israel on Monday morning announced it was closing the pedestrian Erez Crossing to the enclave “until further notice,” with the exception of emergency humanitarian cases. On Sunday, Israel closed the Strip’s fishing zone, cutting off a major source of income for thousands of Palestinians in the coastal enclave.

On Sunday night, Palestinian terrorists fired two rockets from Gaza toward the city of Ashkelon and surrounding communities. One was intercepted while the other landed in an open area, the IDF said. In a second barrage on Sunday night, two mortar shells were fired toward Israel from Gaza, but failed to clear the border and landed within the Strip. And in the predawn hours of Sunday morning, another mortar shell fired from Gaza struck an open field near the border.

Last month, terrorists in Gaza launched dozens of rockets at southern Israel in a flare-up. Most of the rockets landed in open fields, where they caused no injury or damage, but a few struck inside Israeli communities, with shrapnel hitting buildings and vehicles.

On Friday, three Palestinians opened fire toward a Border Police base in Israeli territory near the northern West Bank, with two of the attackers killed and one wounded when officers on the scene returned fire.

Also last week, Israeli yeshiva student Yehuda Guetta and two others were shot in a Palestinian terror attack in the West Bank. He died of his wounds on Wednesday night.

Emanuel Fabian and Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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