Netanyahu again rushed offstage at event as Gaza rocket fired at Ashkelon

Iron Dome intercepts incoming projectile, in case similar to attack in September in which terrorists launched missile during premier’s speech in the south

Judah Ari Gross is The Times of Israel's religions and Diaspora affairs correspondent.

Palestinian terrorists fired a rocket toward the southern city of Ashkelon on Wednesday night as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was campaigning for the upcoming Likud leadership primary, prompting the premier to be rushed off stage to take cover for the second time in under four months.

The Israel Defense Forces said soldiers operating the Iron Dome missile defense system shot down the incoming rocket.

No injuries were reported as a result of the incident.

Netanyahu was in the middle of a campaign event in Ashkelon at the time and was forced to evacuate to a bomb shelter along with the dozens of supporters in the room.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is taken offstage during a Likud primary campaign event in Ashkelon as rocket alerts sound, December 25, 2019. (Screenshot: Twitter)

This was the second time since September that Netanyahu had to be evacuated as a result of rocket fire from Gaza during a campaign event.

The prime minister returned to the stage on Wednesday night after approximately 15 minutes and issued a threat to the terrorists behind the attack.

“The person who fired the rocket last time is no longer with us. The person who did it this time should start packing their things,” he said.

The prime minister was referring to last month’s assassination of Baha Abu al-Ata, a Palestinian Islamic Jihad terror leader who Israel believes ordered the rocket attack in September.

In most cases, senior politicians refrain from announcing their visits to the area surrounding the Gaza Strip ahead of time out of concerns that it could attract attacks. That was not the case with the September and Wednesday night events. In both cases, the prime minister had publicized that he would be attending in advance. The Likud leadership primary is scheduled to be held Thursday.

An Israeli missile launched from the Iron Dome defense missile system, designed to intercept and destroy incoming short-range rockets and artillery shells, is seen above Gaza City on November 13, 2019. (MAHMUD HAMS / AFP)

Responding to the incident, Blue and White chair Benny Gantz said, “This situation in which Israeli citizens live at the mercy of terrorists and the prime minister of Israel is unable to tour parts of his country is a badge of shame on the security policy in the South – and a loss of deterrence that no sovereign country can accept. We will replace the government, change the policy, restore deterrence and bring back quiet to the residents in the South.”

The spokespeople for the city of Ashkelon and the surrounding communities said there were no special instructions given to residents in light of the attack.

Two rockets were fired at Ashdod and nearby Ashkelon from Gaza a week before the September national elections, triggering sirens that forced Netanyahu to rush off stage, where he was to address Likud supporters and be broadcast live. He told attendees to calmly leave the hall and went to take cover, returning later to resume his speech.

Last week also saw a series of mortar and rocket attacks, as well as several attempts by Palestinians to breach the border fence separating Israel and the Gaza Strip.

Last Thursday, a rocket and mortar shell were fired at southern Israel, causing neither injury nor damage. In response, the Israeli Air Force conducted a series of airstrikes on Hamas facilities in the Strip.

The day before, an Israeli aircraft fired at and hit an armed Palestinian who approached the border fence. The military said Wednesday that the Palestinian man was spotted by Israel Defense Forces observation posts as he neared the security fence in southern Gaza. Authorities in the Hamas-run Strip did not comment on the Palestinian suspect’s condition.

Footage of the incident, which was later distributed by the IDF, showed the suspect approaching the border fence armed with what appeared to be an assault rifle. The video ends before the airstrike.

On Friday, several thousand Palestinians protested on the Gaza border as part of the weekly March of Return protests, including several hundred who rioted and clashed with Israeli forces, as the coastal enclave’s Hamas rulers marked 32 years since the founding of the terror group. In addition to the border clashes, thousands took part in rallies in Gaza over the weekend to mark the 1987 anniversary of the terror group’s establishment.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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