Iron Dome intercepts rocket fired from Gaza; IDF tanks hit Hamas positions
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Iron Dome intercepts rocket fired from Gaza; IDF tanks hit Hamas positions

Warning sirens send thousands scrambling for shelter at onset of Shabbat; Israeli tanks strike terror group in Strip as tensions continue to climb

Illustrative: An explosion caused by the Iron Dome air defense system missiles interceptipting rockets fired from Gaza Sunday, Feb. 23, 2020. (AP Photo/Khalil Hamra)
Illustrative: An explosion caused by the Iron Dome air defense system missiles interceptipting rockets fired from Gaza Sunday, Feb. 23, 2020. (AP Photo/Khalil Hamra)

Palestinian terrorists in the Gaza Strip fired a rocket at Israel on Friday evening that was intercepted by the Iron Dome defense system, the army said. There were no reports of injuries or damage.

Rocket warning sirens wailed in southern Israel, sending thousands of Israelis running for bomb shelters as they sat at their Shabbat evening meals.

The Israel Defense Forces said sirens went off in the town of Sderot and in Kibbutz Ivim. The IDF said one launch was identified and intercepted.

The launch of the interceptor was caught on camera by Israel’s Kan public broadcaster.

The IDF said as morning broke on Saturday that it had attacked Hamas positions in response to the rocket fire. The Israeli military has carried out nightly airstrikes against the terror group in the recent round of violence.

“A short time ago, IDF tanks attacked military positions belonging to the Hamas terror group in the southern Gaza Strip. The attack was carried out in response to the launch of rockets from Gaza Strip territory into Israeli territory during the night,” the IDF said in a statement.

On Friday night, police removed a balloon with an incendiary device from the roof of a house in the city of Beersheba. While arson balloons have ignited scores of fires in parts of Israel adjacent to Gaza in recent weeks, Beersheba is located over 20 miles (32 kilometers) from the Strip.

Friday’s sirens came as Israel and the Hamas terror group traded threats after 12 rockets were fired toward Israel overnight Thursday-Friday. Israeli warplanes carried out three rounds of reprisal strikes following the barrage.

Defense Minister Benny Gantz on Friday warned the terror groups in Gaza that the IDF will deliver a “very harsh blow” if violence continues.

“The IDF is ready, it defends and will continue to defend the residents of the south and will attack anyone who attacks us and deliver a very harsh blow,” Gantz said after a meeting with senior IDF officers.

IDF chief of staff Aviv Kohavi met with the heads of the Southern Command and “heard a situational assessment and authorized the command’s plans for various scenarios,” the IDF said. Gantz joined the briefing via video conference.

Israel’s warning comes after the Hamas terror group issued its own threats.

“Israel must bear the consequences and pay the price for the continued aggression against Gaza, the tightening of the siege, the disruption of the lives of residents and the bombing of resistance facilities,” a Hamas statement read. “The resistance clarifies that it will not hesitate to wage a campaign against Israel if the escalation and bombings continue.”

Shlomo Malka in his Sderot home damaged after a rocket was launched from the Gaza Strip, August 21, 2020. (Jack Guez/AFP)

Friday morning saw a renewal of fires in the south caused by incendiary balloons launched from Gaza toward Israel. Two blazes in the area under the jurisdiction of the Hof Ashkelon Regional Council were brought under control by firefighters.

The IDF said it carried out three sets of strikes overnight and in the early hours of the morning in response to rocket fire, targeting underground infrastructure belonging to Hamas, a cement facility used to provide materials for tunnels dug by Gazan terror groups and a site where rockets are produced.

The IDF later released footage of the strikes, saying it showed aircraft bombing Hamas “military facilities, weapons production sites and underground infrastructure.”

The Shehab news outlet, which is linked to Hamas, reported that at least one person was injured during the strikes east of Khan Younis, in southern Gaza. The Gaza health ministry did not report any injuries.

Smoke rises in the distance after the Israeli Air Force carried out airstrikes over Khan Yunis, in the southern Gaza Strip on August 21, 2020. (Said Khatib/AFP)

Twelve rockets were fired at southern Israel from the Strip on Thursday evening and in the early hours of Friday morning, the IDF said. Nine of them were intercepted by the Iron Dome missile defense system, the military said.

The rockets marked a major escalation, even as tensions have ramped up over the past several weeks with sporadic rocket fire and hundreds of balloons carrying incendiary devices being launched toward Israel, drawing near-daily Israeli reprisal fire.

A home in the southern Israeli town of Sderot sustained considerable damage in one of the attacks.

Pictures of the home showed a kitchen blown apart, windows smashed and large holes in walls and the roof. Reports indicated that the damage was likely caused by shrapnel from an interception.

An Israeli man inspects the damage to a home after it was hit by a rocket fired from the Gaza Strip, in Sderot, Israel, Aug. 21, 2020 (AP Photo/Tsafrir Abayov)

The owner of the home said he believed he and his wife miraculously escaped after warning sirens failed to wake them.

“It’s a miracle [that we’re okay],” Shlomo Malka told Hebrew media outlets. “We did not hear the alert at all, we were awoken by the explosion.”

“It cut the house in two. It hit the roof of the secure room,” he said, referring to the shelter within the house. “Suddenly we heard explosions and smelled smoke. We ran to the police station,” he told the Ynet news site. “It was only after we left [the house] that we saw the destruction.”

The IDF boosted the number of Iron Dome batteries in the south of the country in response to the uptick in violence.

It also ordered the cessation of agricultural work near the border fence with the enclave until further notice.

Israeli soldiers extinguish a fire near Kibbutz Kissufim caused by an incendiary balloon launched from the Gaza Strip on August 19, 2020. (Menahem Kahana/AFP)

Over the past few weeks, terrorists in the enclave have again begun launching balloon-borne incendiary and explosive devices into southern Israel, sparking dozens of fires that caused environmental and property damage in the region.

Palestinians in Gaza inflate plastic bags before being attached with incendiary devices and flown into Israel, near Rafah along the border between the Gaza Strip and Israel on August 21, 2020. (SAID KHATIB / AFP)

Those attacks have drawn daily retaliatory Israeli strikes against Hamas installations.

The apparent uptick in fighting late Thursday and early Friday comes amid truce efforts being brokered by Egypt.

A ceasefire in place for years, which has already been renewed several times, is bolstered by millions of dollars in financial aid from Qatar to Gaza. But complaints from Hamas that Israel has failed to live up to its side of the bargain have been accompanied by sporadic flare-ups on the border.

AFP contributed to this report.

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