Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was set Tuesday to conduct urgent security consultations after Palestinians in Gaza fired more than 25 mortar shells at communities in southern Israel, one of which landed just outside a kindergarten less than an hour before children were due to arrive.
Meanwhile, Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman called for a “special situational assessment” from IDF Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot and other senior figures from Israel’s security services. They were due to meet in the army’s Tel Aviv headquarters, known as the Kirya, Liberman’s office said.
The attacks, which triggered three rounds of sirens in the Sha’ar Hanegev and Eshkol regions and lightly injured one person, were apparently mounted by the Iranian-backed Palestinian Islamic Jihad terror group in revenge for the IDF killing three of its members in a cross-border exchange earlier in the week.
It appeared to be the largest attack from the Gaza Strip, in terms of the number of projectiles fired, since the 2014 war, known in Israel as Operation Protective Edge.
Most of the shells were intercepted by the Iron Dome missile defense system.
“No country would or should accept such threats to its civilian population. Neither do we,” a Foreign Ministry spokesman said.
“The shooting of rockets this morning from Gaza, one of them landing in the yard of an empty kindergarten (!), demonstrates the grave danger Hamas represents to Israeli civilians.”
He was reiterating government policy, which is to hold the Strip’s Hamas rulers responsible for any attack emanating from the beleaguered coastal enclave.
Lawmakers from across the political spectrum called for harsh action against the group, which is also supported by Iran and committed to erasing the Jewish state.
Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein (Likud) said, “The firing of mortars at a kindergarten is the most serious red line.”
The opposition Zionist Union’s leader, Avi Gabbay, said Israel owed it to the southern Israeli communities to “respond to firing and damage on the Gaza border and to do everything necessary to prevent the next round.”
Yair Lapid (Yesh Atid) said he expected to hear “clear condemnations” from the international community.
Former Labor party leader Amir Peretz, a resident of the Gaza border area, said the attack was an escalation of violence. “The IDF must react very severely, more than before. It doesn’t matter if it’s Islamic Jihad or Hamas. Hamas is the ruler of the Strip and it must pay the price.”
Moti Yogev of the right-wing Jewish Home party called for the assassination of terror groups’ leaders and their replacement with a regime that will cooperate in “helping the population of Gaza to live.”
President Reuven Rivlin, meanwhile, phoned the kindergarten next to which one of shells landed and told children that he and his wife, Nechama, were waiting to meet them at the President’s Residence.
בוקר טוב לילדי עוטף עזה שלנו, ולידי הגן אשר התחילו את הבוקר בין האזעקות והתראות צבע אדום. שמחתי לשוחח אתכם ועם הגננת המקסימה טובה הבוקר ואני מאחל לכם ולכולנו, בוקר שקט ורגוע. pic.twitter.com/TR5adHbMHk
— ראובן (רובי) ריבלין (@ruvirivlin) May 29, 2018
The head of the Eshkol region told Channel 10 news that the army told him the attack was carried out by the Palestinian Islamic Jihad terror group, as revenge for the Israel Defense Forces killing three of its members in a cross-border exchange earlier in the week.
In a statement, Islamic Jihad described its attack as “a welcome response of the resistance,” adding, “our people’s blood is not cheap.”
The attack also came less than 12 hours after Palestinians in the Gaza Strip opened fire with a machine gun at the southern Israeli town of Sderot, causing damage but no injuries, in the second such attack in as many weeks, the army said.
The military responded to the Tuesday morning attack by shelling a number of positions belonging to terrorist groups in the Gaza Strip, Palestinian media reported.
The army would not immediately confirm it had conducted retaliatory strikes. Additional reprisal raids were expected, in accordance with Israel’s standard policies regarding attacks from Gaza.
As a matter of policy, the Israeli army considers Hamas, which rules Gaza, to be responsible for any attack emanating from the beleaguered coastal enclave.