Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called a gathering Wednesday of top defense officials to discuss the situation in the Gaza Strip, hours after Palestinian terrorists fired a rocket overnight at the southern city of Beersheba that exploded outside a home, causing significant damage but no injuries, and another that landed in the sea off central Israel.
Israel responded with airstrikes against a series of targets in the coastal enclave, reportedly killing one Palestinian and wounding several others.
Netanyahu was set to hold security consultations with Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman, Deputy IDF chief of staff Maj. Gen. Aviv Kochavi, head of the National Security Council Meir Ben-Shabbat, head of Shin Bet security service Nadav Argaman and other top officials, the Prime Minister’s Office said in a statement.
The PMO added that Netanyahu had already held “security consultations” during the morning hours.
IDF chief Gadi Eisenkot cut short a work visit to the United States to return to Israel in the wake of the attack.
Palestinian terrorists in Gaza, following weeks of soaring tensions, launched two rockets in the predawn hours of Wednesday morning. One rocket seriously damaged a family home in Beersheba; the second landed in the sea off the coast of the greater Tel Aviv area.
In retaliation, Israeli fighter jets bombed a number of targets in the Gaza Strip.
Speaking to Israel Radio, Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz, who is a member of the security cabinet, accused Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas of orchestrating the flareup in violence, and cautioned against launching a full-blown war in Gaza, which, he suggested, was what the West Bank-based Abbas wants.
“We must aggressively respond with force to the rocket strike on Beersheba, but there is a difference between that and being drawn into a full campaign in Gaza,” Steinitz told the radio station. “This whole flareup was caused by Abbas and we should not let him draw us in.
“If we go to war in the Strip we will call it ‘Abbas’s war,’ because he is the architect of this flareup.”
Steinitz said that, contrary to comments from Defense Minister Liberman, Israel has not yet exhausted the chances of reaching an arrangement to calm the situation in Gaza. Egyptian mediators, who have so far failed to produce an agreement between Israel and Hamas to end the violence, were in Gaza on Wednesday.
Hamas, which seeks to destroy Israel, wrested control of the Gaza Strip from Abbas’s Palestinian Authority in 2007. Israel holds Hamas responsible for all attacks that come out of the Gaza Strip.
Abbas, who is demanding to regain control of the territory, has been working to undermine Hamas’s government in Gaza, and in recent months has levied severe sanctions on the Strip, exacerbating the humanitarian crisis there.
Opposition leader Avi Gabbay on Wednesday morning accused the government under Netanyahu of bungling the situation in Gaza and bolstering Hamas’s status.
“We are tired of a government that is strengthening Hamas. We are tired of a government that is enabling Hamas to strike and disrupt the lives of residents in the south,” he tweeted. “We are tired of Netanyahu’s security failures and Liberman’s empty slogans and we are tired of a cabinet that is mixing politics and state security.”
MK Yair Lapid, who leads the opposition Yesh Atid party, tweeted that Hamas no longer fears Israel, and that the political leadership is entangled in public disputes between Liberman and Education Minsiter Naftali Bennett on security policies.
“A direct hit on a home in Beersheba. There are no [school] studies in the city,” he said. “Hamas is no longer afraid and Netanyahu is hiding behind the Bennett-Liberman spats. Those who are clamoring for credit for successes should also take responsibility for failures. For how long will Hamas dictate the situation in the south?”
On Tuesday, Liberman warned that the military was gearing up for a major strike on Gaza to stop ongoing violence.
“I’ve held a series of meetings with the head of the Southern Command, the head of the [Gaza] Division, the brigade commanders, the battalion commanders, also with soldiers. My impression is that they all have reached the understanding that the situation as it is today cannot continue,” he said.
Beersheba Mayor Ruvik Danilovich on Wednesday criticized the government for not bringing calm to the south.
“This is an impossible situation,” he told Hadashot TV news. “In general, what has been going on in the Negev and the south in recent months is an unbearable situation… and we call on the government to put an end to it. It is impossible to live in a situation like this, no one is eager for a fight, but if this is repeated, something must be done.”
Earlier Danilovich canceled all school studies in the city until further notice.
It was only the second rocket fired at Beersheba since the 2014 Gaza war. The previous rocket, which struck a field north of Beersheba on August 9, came as Palestinians fired dozens of projectiles at Israeli communities along the Gaza border.
Rocket attacks on Beersheba — home to more than 200,000 people — are rare and considered a major escalation.
A second rocket fired from Gaza Wednesday morning fell out at sea across from the greater Tel Aviv area, known in Israel as Gush Dan. The military would only confirm that it struck “off the coast of a large city.”
Since March 30, Palestinians in the Gaza Strip have participated in a series of protests and riots dubbed the “Great March of Return,” which have mostly involved the burning of tires and rock-throwing along the security fence, but have also seen shooting attacks and bombings as well as the sending of incendiary balloons and kites into Israel.
There have also been several flareups that took Israel and Hamas to the brink of war, with Palestinians firing rockets into Israel and the IDF responding with airstrikes.
Some 155 Palestinians have been killed and thousands more have been injured in the clashes with IDF troops, according to AP figures; Hamas has acknowledged that dozens of the dead were its members. One Israeli soldier was shot dead by a sniper on the border.