Rocket hits western Negev in latest escalation

Violence emanating from Gaza makes return as Israel prepares to release 26 Palestinian prisoners

Yifa Yaakov is a breaking news editor at The Times of Israel.

Smoke trails of rocket fired by Palestinian militants from Gaza Strip towards Israel in October 2012. (photo credit: AP/Ariel Schalit)
Smoke trails of rocket fired by Palestinian militants from Gaza Strip towards Israel in October 2012. (photo credit: AP/Ariel Schalit)

A rocket launched from Gaza exploded Monday evening in the western Negev.

The rocket landed in an open area in the Sha’ar Hanegev region. There were no injuries or damage. No alert sounded prior to impact.

The missile was fired as Israel prepared to release 26 Palestinian prisoners, 23 of whom were convicted of murdering Israeli civilians or  soldiers, or Palestinians suspected of collaborating with Israel.

The release, slated for around midnight on Monday, was the third phase of a four-stage series of releases agreed on when peace talks with the Palestinians were resumed in July.

Monday’s rocket launching was the latest escalation in tensions on the Israel-Gaza border, which has seen a rise in attacks and Israeli retaliatory strikes in recent weeks.

Last week, the Israeli Air Force struck targets in Gaza after several rockets hit Israeli territory, landing in open areas.

On Thursday, it was revealed that security forces had earlier this month arrested a Gaza man, in Israel on a permit to seek medical help, on suspicion that he planned to carry out a terror attack upon his return to the Strip.

The IDF deployed three Iron Dome rocket-interception batteries to the area near the southern cities of Beersheba, Sderot and Ashdod over Wednesday and Thursday.

Last Tuesday, a Defense Ministry civilian worker was killed by sniper fire from the Gaza Strip, prompting retaliatory attacks by the IAF that killed a Palestinian toddler and her father.

In a string of attacks and attempted attacks last Monday, a rocket fired from Gaza landed next to a children’s bus stop in the Ashkelon area, a bus bombing was narrowly averted in Bat Yam, and a police officer was stabbed and seriously wounded in the West Bank.

In the wake of the violence, the IDF briefly closed the Kerem Shalom border crossing with the Gaza Strip to all commercial traffic.

Following last week’s escalation, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said that Israel considers Hamas responsible for the recent attacks emanating from Gaza and will make the terror group face the consequences.

Also Monday, the IDF began installing air-raid sirens and fortified safe zones in all its bases on the Golan Heights, bracing for an increased threat of rocket attacks along the border with Syria.

The move came a day after two Katyusha rockets were fired from Lebanon into Israel. Nobody was hurt in the attacks.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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