None hurt after Kassam fired at Ashkelon area

Rocket lands in open area; Iron Dome batteries deployed in Beersheba, Sderot, and Ashdod as Gaza tensions escalate

An Iron Dome missile-defense system. (photo credit: Flash90)
An Iron Dome missile-defense system. (photo credit: Flash90)

A Kassam rocket was fired from Gaza and slammed into an open area near Ashkelon late Wednesday night.

There were no injuries and no damage, officials said.

Red alert sirens wailed through the region before the missile hit, for the second time this week.

The rocket came amid heightened tensions between Israel and the Palestinians following a string of attacks against Israeli civilians, police officers and soldiers, and Israeli retaliatory strikes against Gaza on Tuesday.

Earlier Wednesday, the IDF deployed an Iron Dome missile interception battery to the area near the southern cities of Beersheba and Sderot, and on Thursday put a third battery near Ashdod.

An IDF spokesperson said that the army usually moves its six anti-missile units around the country to address operational and training needs.

Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon said Israel was taking measures designed to ensure it was ready for any escalation of hostilities, although IDF sources said they did not expect an escalation.

On Tuesday, a Defense Ministry civilian worker was killed by sniper fire from the Gaza Strip, prompting retaliatory attacks by the Israeli Air Force. On Monday, a rocket fired from Gaza landed next to a children’s bus stop in the Ashkelon area.

Relatives of the slain Defense Ministry worker, 22-year-old Saleh Abu Latif of Rahat, said Wednesday the IDF abandoned him and that the Defense Ministry didn’t provide him with body armor or a helmet while he was performing maintenance work on a damaged stretch of the border fence.

A Defense Ministry spokesperson said in response that the IDF, not the ministry, was responsible for protecting civilian contractors and providing them with the necessary hardware. The IDF said it was investigating, and would “draw conclusions” at the end of the investigation.

Following Tuesday’s killing, the IAF launched airstrikes against Hamas targets and IDF ground forces gathered along the border and fired into the Strip. Palestinian sources in Gaza claimed two people — 3-year-old Hala Sabiha and her father — were killed during the Israeli strikes, and nine were injured. The IDF did not comment on the claims.

In the wake of the violence, the IDF closed the Kerem Shalom border crossing with the Gaza Strip to all commercial traffic.

In spite of the heightened readiness on the border with Gaza and the deployment of Iron Dome, sources in the IDF said they expected a deescalation by Hamas.

22-year-old Saleh Abu Latif, killed by a Gaza sniper Tuesday, December 12 (photo credit: screen shot/ Channel 2)
22-year-old Saleh Abu Latif, killed by a Gaza sniper Tuesday, December 24 (photo credit: screen shot/ Channel 2)

In Jerusalem, the cabinet met on Wednesday, with ministers saying that Israel would retaliate with force against any attacks from the Gaza Strip, but that silence would be met with silence.

“As far as we’re concerned Hamas is the sovereign power in the Gaza Strip and it is responsible for what happens there,” Ya’alon said. “We expect it to impose its authority on its people and on the members of other groups, and if it doesn’t do so we will continue to retaliate like we responded [on Tuesday] in a forceful and pointed manner.” 

“For greater security, we are planning for the possibility of an escalation [of hostilities] — with deployment of an Iron Dome battery and with other preparations — in case someone on the other side thinks otherwise,” the defense minister added.

Bereaved families demonstrate with signs saying "stop the release of terrorists," in front of the Prime Minister's residence in Jerusalem on Wednesday, December 25, 2013. (Photo credit: Yonatan Sindel/Flash 90)
Bereaved families demonstrate with signs saying “stop the release of terrorists,” in front of the Prime Minister’s residence in Jerusalem on Wednesday, December 25, 2013. (Photo credit: Yonatan Sindel/Flash 90)

Despite the uptick in violence in the past week, with attacks on Israeli targets in Gaza and the West Bank, and the attempted bombing of an Israeli bus in Bat Yam, the cabinet decided Wednesday that it would proceed as planned with the release the another group of Palestinian prisoners next Sunday. This is the third of four phased releases of long-term terror convicts, agreed as part of the preconditions to negotiations with the Palestinian Authority. Israel in July agreed to release 104 prisoners convicted before the 1993 Oslo Accords in four waves over the course of the nine-month negotiation process.

According a Channel 2 report, Israel said that it would stick by its commitment to the US, which is brokering the talks with the Palestinians, and that the spike in terrorism did not justify breaching that commitment. Ya’alon said, however, that security officials would review which prisoners to release and which would remain incarcerated.

Ya’alon remarked that Israel was not overjoyed to let them free, but reiterated that the release of these prisoners “stems from broader considerations.”

Channel 2 said the prisoner releases would be accompanied by an Israeli announcement of new building plans in the settlements, which it said had been coordinated with US Secretary of State John Kerry. The pro-settlement Jewish Home was not pushing for the announcement of new settlement building, since it felt the linkage of prisoner releases to West Bank settlement construction was damaging to the settlement enterprise. Thus, the report said, the announcement would be at the personal choice of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

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