Rocket fired from Gaza into Israel; IDF tanks respond, hitting 3 Hamas positions

Rocket lands in open area in Eshkol region, no injuries or damage reported; army says it shelled military targets in north of Strip

Illustrative: Rockets are launched from the Gaza Strip toward Israel, November 13, 2019. (AP Photo/Khalil Hamra)
Illustrative: Rockets are launched from the Gaza Strip toward Israel, November 13, 2019. (AP Photo/Khalil Hamra)

Palestinian terrorists in the Gaza Strip fired early Wednesday a rocket into Israel that landed in an open area, causing no injuries or damage, the IDF said.

The army said that as the projectile was detected to be heading to an open area in the Eshkol region, rocket warning sirens were not sounded, but people in the area were notified with text messages.

The IDF said that in response tanks shelled three “Hamas military positions in the northern Gaza Strip.”

There has been a lull in violence in recent weeks, with both Israel and the Palestinians focused on combating the outbreak of the coronavirus.

Israel and the Hamas terror group, which rules Gaza, have also been negotiating a possible prisoner swap.

The possibility of a deal to return two Israeli captives — Avera Mengistu and Hisham al-Sayed — and the bodies of two IDF soldiers being held in the Gaza Strip has appeared to pick up momentum recently, with the government’s chief negotiator for the release of Israelis held by the terror group updating families last week regarding the prisoner swap talks.

The Wednesday meeting between Yaron Blum and the families of Sergeant First Class Oron Shaul and Lieutenant Hadar Goldin, both killed in action during the 2014 Gaza war, came after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu earlier convened the ministerial committee responsible for returning Israeli captives to discuss efforts to reach a prisoner exchange with Hamas, Channel 13 reported.

Left to right: Oron Shaul, Hadar Goldin and Avraham Mengistu. (Flash90/The Times of Israel)

Hamas in recent weeks has expressed interest in reaching a deal that would see it return Mengistu and al-Sayed, who are believed to have entered Gaza of their own accord over five years ago, and the remains of Shaul and Goldin.

However, the terror group, which is the de facto ruler in the Strip and openly seeks Israel’s destruction, has said that in order for such a deal to take place, Israel must first release all teenage, female and elderly prisoners in addition to those who were rearrested after the 2011 Gilad Shalit prisoner swap deal, when more than 1,000 terror convicts were freed in exchange for a single IDF soldier.

The issue of the captives was reportedly delaying Israel’s okay for new investment money to be funneled into blockaded Gaza, and Hamas was growing desperate to lift part of the blockade amid the global coronavirus pandemic and economic downturn.

Some Israeli defense bodies are said to believe a prisoner swap would bring quiet to the often tense border for the immediate future.

Israel and Hamas have in the past failed to advance in the talks, in part because each has demanded a different timetable. Hamas has demanded two rounds of prisoner releases — the first in exchange for information on the captives, the second in exchange for the actual delivery to Israel of the captives and the soldiers’ bodies. Israel has refused, insisting that any deal must take place in a single exchange.

The coalition deal inked last month between Benjamin Netanyahu and Benny Gantz also opens a possible political window for a deal, as Gantz’s Blue and White faction would likely support an exchange even if some of Netanyahu’s right-wing allies do not.

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