Army: 'No one is immune, neither in the Strip or outside it'

Islamic Jihad claims Gaza rocket fire; IDF says Iran, Syria responsible

Israeli aircraft carry out fresh strikes in Strip as Iron Dome intercepts additional rockets launched from Palestinian enclave

This picture from October 27, 2018, shows smoke rising after an Israeli airstrike in Gaza City. (Mahmud Hams/AFP)
This picture from October 27, 2018, shows smoke rising after an Israeli airstrike in Gaza City. (Mahmud Hams/AFP)

Islamic Jihad on Saturday took responsibility for the rocket fire from the Gaza Strip overnight and threatened further launches, as the Israeli military accused the Palestinian terror group of carrying out the attacks on behalf of Iran and Syria.

Though the Israel Defense Forces did not accuse Hamas of taking part in the rocket fire, it reiterated that it considers the terror group responsible as Gaza’s rulers.

“We also view the regime in Syria and the Iranian Quds Force as the address for the incidents,” IDF Spokesman Brig. Gen. Ronen Manelis said, referring to the overseas branch of Iran’s elite Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps.

“We sent clear messages in this spirit to those who need it and no one is immune, neither in the Strip or outside it,” he added.

Minutes after the IDF statement, a series of warning sirens were heard throughout communities in southern Israel. The army said five rockets were fired from Gaza in salvos, four of which were intercepted by the Iron Dome anti-missile system.

In response, the military said Israeli fighter jets carried out airstrikes on eight Islamic Jihad targets in three separate military facilities, including weapons production sites and a factory that makes parts for subterranean tunnels.

The rocket launches and retaliatory airstrikes came over an hour after Iron Dome interceptors destroyed another rocket launched from Gaza.

Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman was set to meet with IDF Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot and other top security officials at military headquarters in Tel Aviv for a situational assessment, his office said.

Due to the flareup, Ben Gurion Airport changed the runways for incoming flights, according to Hebrew media reports, though flight times were not expected to be affected.

The latest exchange of fire came after Islamic Jihad’s military wing threatened further rocket launches.

“The Palestinian resistance is considering expanding the response in number and type, if the enemy continues its ruthless action and aggression against our people,” the Al-Quds Brigades said in a statement.

The army said some 30 rockets were launched at Israel overnight, around 10 of which were intercepted by Iron Dome. Two of the rockets fell in Gaza and the rest landed in open areas.

The Defense Ministry’s liaison to the Palestinians, known by its acronym COGAT, said a mortar launched by terrorists struck the ambulance terminal at the Erez border crossing, the only pedestrian passage between Gaza and Israel.

“To what low have the terrorist organizations in the Gaza Strip reached when they strike the ambulance crossing at the Erez Crossing? A crossing through which children in need of life-saving treatment, terminally ill patients for whom this is their last hope to extend their lives, and those in need of the progress of world medicine to provide a response to their diseases, enter Israel on a daily basis on their way to hospitals in Israel or in Judea and Samaria,” Maj. Gen. Kamil Abu Rokon wrote on COGAT’s Arabic-language Facebook page, using the biblical name for the West Bank.

Damage at the Erez border crossing caused by a mortar launched by Palestinian terrorists in the Gaza Strip is seen on October 27, 2018. (Coordinator for Government Activities in the Territories)

In response to the attacks, the IDF said fighter jets and attack helicopters struck 87 targets in the Strip, including two weapons-production facilities, five military sites, a training facility, a tunnel shaft and an observation post.

The Israel Defense Forces later said aircraft also struck a four-story building in Gaza City’s Daraj neighborhood used as the headquarters of Hamas’ General Security Services.

It said the building’s tenants received several warnings ahead of the strike to clear the premises.

“The strike was carried out following the extensive attacks by the IDF in response to the [rocket] fire at communities in the Gaza area tonight. This strike was an expression of the intelligence and operational capabilities of the IDF, that will deepen and intensify as needed,” the army said.

Gaza’s health ministry said a hospital in northern Gaza known as the Indonesian Hospital was damaged by one of the strikes overnight, though photos of the damage did not appear to indicate a direct hit on the building. There were no reports of casualties.

The IDF said in a statement Saturday morning it “views with great severity the rocket attack tonight against Israeli communities.” It blamed Hamas for creating “a terror-enabling atmosphere…near the border fence which led terror groups in the Strip to carry out tonight’s attack.”

US Special Representative for International Negotiations, Jason Greenblatt, tweeted support for Israel overnight, saying: “More rockets from Gaza into Israel. Another night where parents are ushering terrified children to cover.”

Palestinian sources speaking to the Ynet news website claimed the attacks were carried out against the objections of the Hamas terror group that rules Gaza, though this had no official confirmation.

Israel views Hamas as ultimately responsible for any attacks emanating from the territory it controls, regardless of the source.

In response to the rocket barrages, the IDF’s Home Front Command overnight issued instructions restricting gatherings in the Gaza periphery: up to 100 people in open areas and 500 people in closed spaces.

Smoke rises from an explosion caused by an Israeli airstrike on Gaza City, on October 27, 2018. (AP Photo/Adel Hana)

The rocket fire comes amid a deadly flareup in violence in the Gaza Strip. Earlier on Friday, thousands of Palestinians gathered at five locations along the border, burning tires and throwing rocks and firebombs at Israeli troops who responded with tear gas and occasional live fire.

Five protesters were killed and another 170 were injured in the clashes with IDF troops, the Hamas-run health ministry in Gaza said.

Earlier this week, a rocket was launched at southern Israel from Gaza, triggering sirens in a number of communities in the Eshkol region, ending a week-long stretch of relative calm in the coastal enclave. In response to that attack, the IDF said it hit eight Hamas targets in the Gaza Strip, including training bases and a weapons production facility.

The ramped up tensions are likely to complicate the mission of Egyptian mediators, who have intensified their shuttle diplomacy to achieve calm and prevent a full-blown conflict between Gaza’s Hamas rulers and Israel.

A Palestinian holds a Palestinian flag as he uses a slingshot to hurl rocks at Israeli troops during clashes near the border with Israel, east of Gaza City, on October 26, 2018. (Mahmud Hams/AFP)

Weekly large-scale riots by Gazans, and clashes between Palestinians and Israeli soldiers, have become a mainstay along the Strip’s security fence since March 30, as part of a Hamas-led effort known as the “March of Return.”

These demonstrations take place each Friday, regularly sending massive amounts of thick smoke into the Israeli communities nearby, as Palestinians burn tires along the border and send incendiary devices affixed to balloons into Israel to spark fires.

The period since March 30 has also included a number of significant flareups and extended clashes. Another rocket launched from the Gaza Strip last week struck a home in the southern Israeli city of Beersheba, causing significant damage, but no injuries as the family inside had reached their bomb shelter in time.

In recent weeks, the situation along the border has grown more precarious, as indirect negotiations between Israel and Hamas — with the Egyptian military and United Nations acting as intermediaries — have reached a critical turning point.

Israel has called for a cessation to all violence, including both the clashes on the border and the daily arson attacks that have burned large swaths of land in the south, in exchange for certain economic incentives and an easing of the blockade around the coastal enclave, which is imposed by Israel to prevent Hamas importing weapons.

At least 160 Palestinians have been killed and thousands more have been injured in the clashes with IDF troops, according to AP figures. Hamas, an Islamist terror group that seized control of the Strip in 2007 and seeks to destroy Israel, has acknowledged that dozens of the dead were its members. One Israeli soldier was shot dead by a sniper on the border.

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