Mortar barrage fired at IDF on Gaza border, in retaliation for destroyed tunnel

Mortar barrage fired at IDF on Gaza border, in retaliation for destroyed tunnel

A month after army blew up Islamic Jihad terror group’s cross-border tunnel, shells fired at Israeli troops, causing damage but no injuries; IDF retaliates with tank, aerial fire

Judah Ari Gross is The Times of Israel's military correspondent.

Illustrative. An IDF Merkava tank operating along the Gaza border on August 6, 2014 (Miriam Alster/ Flash 90)
Illustrative. An IDF Merkava tank operating along the Gaza border on August 6, 2014 (Miriam Alster/ Flash 90)

Twelve mortar shells were fired from the Gaza Strip at nearby Israeli troops, and in response Israeli tanks and aircraft targeted two Hamas and two Palestinian Islamic Jihad positions in northern Gaza on Thursday afternoon, the army said.

There were no Israeli injuries reported and minimal damage caused to military equipment at the army post that was targeted by the mortar barrage, according to the Israel Defense Forces.

The exchange came exactly one month after Israeli forces destroyed a cross-borner attack tunnel belonging to the Palestinian Islamic Jihad group, in which at least 14 terrorists were killed, including two of the terrorist organization’s top commanders.

IDF spokesperson Lt. Col. Jonathan Conricus said the mortar barrage appeared to be retaliation for the demolition of the tunnel, which stretched from the Gaza Strip into Israeli territory, near Kibbutz Kissufim.

Members of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad terror group attend the funeral of fellow terrorists killed in an Israeli operation to blow up a tunnel stretching from the Gaza Strip into Israel in central Gaza, on October 31, 2017. (AFP/Thomas Coex)

The Palestinian Islamic Jihad had vowed it would avenge its operatives killed in the Israeli demolition.

Thursday’s attack came as rocket sirens sounded in the Israeli town of Sderot and other communities surrounding the Gaza Strip, though no missiles actually struck the Sha’ar HaNegev region.

“During the past hour, and parallel to the false alarm in Sha’ar HaNegev, a number of mortar rounds were fired at a military post adjacent to the northern Gaza Strip,” the IDF said in a statement.

Twelve mortar shells were fired at the army post, northeast of the coastal enclave, Conricus told reporters.

As they were fired at a very short range, the Iron Dome air defense battery was not activated, the spokesperson said.

In response to the mortar fire, Israeli tanks and aircraft fired on Hamas and Islamic Jihad positions.

The army spokesperson said the attack was carried out by the Islamic Jihad terror group. “We know who conducted the attack, we even know them by name,” Conricus said.

Nevertheless, in accordance with its established policy, the military said it holds Hamas responsible “for any hostile activity perpetrated against Israel from the Gaza Strip.” As such, both groups were targeted, Conricus said.

Following the exchange, the army suspended construction on the underground barrier that is being built around the Gaza Strip, which is designed to counter terror groups’ attack tunnels, the officer said.

However, no other special instructions were given to residents, he noted.

Train service was also temporarily halted from Sderot to Ashkelon, in accordance with an order from security forces.

“Buses have been ordered to come to the Ashkelon, Sderot and Netivot train stations,” the Israel Railways company said.

Rail service returned to the area a short while later.

An Israeli soldier stands guard next to Israel’s Iron Dome defense system, designed to intercept and destroy incoming short-range rockets and artillery shells, deployed close to the Israeli border with the Gaza Strip, near Kibbutz Kissufim in southern Israel, on October 30, 2017. (AFP PHOTO/MENAHEM KAHANA)

On October 30, the IDF blew up the tunnel, which originated in the Gazan city of Khan Younis and crossed into Israeli territory.

The Palestinian Islamic Jihad said the tunnel was supposed to be used for “kidnapping soldiers in order to free prisoners [from Israeli prisons].”

According to the army, the tunnel had been under surveillance the entire time that it was inside Israeli territory and did not pose a threat to civilians.

The Palestinian Islamic Jihad said it would not back down on its “right” to retaliate against Israel for the tunnel explosion, which led to the deaths of 12 of its members, including two commanders, as well as two members of Hamas’s military wing.

Israeli officials told the terror group not to go through with its plans to react. In the weeks following, the army also kept farmers away from the fence and, in a dramatic move, deployed Iron Dome missile defense batteries in central Israel, including in the greater Tel Aviv area.

The army said later that killing the terrorists was not the primary objective of the tunnel demolition.

The bodies of five of the terrorists who were working on the tunnel inside Israeli territory were recovered by the IDF, the army said.

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