Mortar shell fired at southern Israel from Gaza for second time in two days

No reports of injury or damage as projectile hits Eshkol region field near Gaza; attack continues violent weekend as mediators seek to soothe tensions

Palestinian rockets are shot toward Israel from Gaza on November 12, 2018. (AP/Hatem Moussa)
Palestinian rockets are shot toward Israel from Gaza on November 12, 2018. (AP/Hatem Moussa)

Palestinian terrorists in the Gaza Strip fired a mortar shell at the Eshkol region of southern Israel on Saturday night, amid an uptick in violence along the Gaza border.

The mortar shell struck an open field, causing neither injuries nor damage, the local government said. The launch triggered air raid sirens in the region, sending thousands of residents to bomb shelters.

“Residents of the Gaza periphery have been living under a continuous state of emergency for many months. If the children of the Gaza periphery aren’t sleeping at night because of the situation, it must also wake the policy-makers and those responsible for the security of the citizens of the State of Israel,” Eshkol Mayor Gadi Yarkoni said in a statement.

The last several days have seen an uptick in rockets and small arms fire aimed across the border, as well as balloons carrying explosive devices.

Late Saturday, residents of an Israeli home near the Gaza border reported finding a bullet shell in their living room, apparently fired from across the fence days earlier. A hole had been found in an outside wall of the home Thursday, leading to suspicions the house had been hit by small arms fire.

Earlier Saturday, police sappers were called to the Israel-Gaza border area after a cluster of balloons suspected of carrying an explosive device landed in Israeli territory.

From images of the device, the balloons appeared to be carrying the warhead of an anti-tank missile.

The balloon-borne device was located in the Sdot Negev Regional Council. Police instructed hikers to keep away from the area as they carried out a controlled explosion.

A screenshot from a Channel 13 report on March 9, 2019 showing a police officer at the spot where a controlled explosion of a cluster of balloons carrying a missile warhead took place.

On Friday, a mortar shell from Gaza struck an open field in the Eshkol region, causing no injuries or damage. In response, the Israel Air Force carried out several strikes in the Strip, hitting a Hamas military base in the south of the territory and underground infrastructure in the north.

Friday also saw thousands of Palestinians take part in violent protests along the border, and two men, whom the IDF said were carrying a knife and a hand grenade, were arrested after crossing into Israel from the northern Strip. The two infiltrators broke through the security fence and evaded capture for approximately half an hour, forcing the IDF to bring additional troops to the area, as well as local communities to go on high alert and call up their volunteer security forces.

In light of the increasing violence between Israel and Hamas, Egypt and other mediators have been working intensively in recent weeks to broker a cease fire agreement between the two sides, but thus far to no avail.

Friday’s protests were part of what Palestinians call the “March of Return,” a series of regular demonstrations and violent riots along the border fence that have been held since March 30, 2018.

Israel says the demonstrations are orchestrated by Hamas, which vocally supports them, sending free buses to the border and providing food and internet to participants — as well as money for those injured in them — in order to provide a cover for the organization’s nefarious activities along the security fence, including infiltration attempts, the planting of explosives and attacks on Israeli soldiers.

Their organizers have said the protests aim to achieve the “return” of Palestinian refugees and their descendants to lands that are now part of Israel, and pressure the Jewish state to lift its restrictions on the movement of people and goods into and out of the coastal enclave.

Israeli officials hold that the return of Palestinian refugees and their descendants would destroy Israel’s Jewish character. They also maintain that the restrictions on movement are in place to prevent Hamas and other terrorist groups from smuggling weapons into the Strip.

The flying of kites and balloons carrying burning objects and explosives had been a main element of the weekly clashes on the Gaza border, ravaging forests and farmland in southern Israel and posing a threat to local residents.

Israeli troops respond to an infiltration by two Palestinian men from the northern Gaza Strip on March 8, 2019. (Yediot Mehashetah)

On Thursday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warned Hamas that Israel would respond harshly to any further violence emanating from the Strip.

Egyptian mediators were in Gaza this week as Cairo launched a new round of mediation between Israel and Hamas in a bid to secure a lasting ceasefire deal.

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