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2 rockets fired from Gaza at southern and central Israel, army says

No reports of injuries or damage; attack comes days after one-year anniversary of killing of Palestinian Islamic Jihad commander

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 two rockets at southern and central Israel in the predawn hours of Sunday morning, the Israel Defense Forces said.

Both rockets struck open areas along the coast — one near the city of Ashdod and the other on Palmachim Beach, south of Tel Aviv — causing no significant damage or injuries.

Soldiers operating the Iron Dome air defense system attempted to shoot down the rocket fired toward Palmachim Beach “in accordance with policy,” the military said, firing at least two interceptor missiles at the projectile, but did not shoot it down. Fragments of an interceptor missile landed in the nearby city of Bat Yam, causing minor damage.

This exchange triggered sirens in northern Ashdod and in the community of Kibbutz Palmachim just after 2 a.m. Sunday.

The rocket fired at Ashdod was heading toward an unpopulated area, and as a result no alarms were triggered “as there was no purpose,” the military said, nor were interceptor missiles fired at it.

The rocket sirens sent thousands rushing for shelter, as residents of cities and towns south of Tel Aviv reported hearing powerful explosions.

There were no immediate reports of injuries or damage.

The rocket fire came days after the one-year anniversary of the killing of Palestinian Islamic Jihad commander Baha Abu al-Ata.

Abu al-Ata’s death on November 12, 2019 sparked a fierce round of fighting known in the military as Operation Black Belt. Last week also marked the anniversary of an IDF intelligence operation that went awry on November 11, 2018, leading to a large exchange of fire between Israel and terror groups in the Strip, as well as a major, week-long campaign against Hamas in November 2012, known as Operation Pillar of Defense.

In this photo taken on October 21, 2016, Palestinian Islamic Jihad terror leader Baha Abu al-Ata attends a rally in Gaza City. (STR/AFP)

The IDF went on heightened alert Wednesday, sending additional air defenses to southern Israel, ahead of the anniversary. In addition to more Iron Dome missile defense batteries deployed to the south, flights into and out of Israel appeared to have been directed to use Ben Gurion International Airport’s northern paths, keeping them farther from the Gaza Strip.

These changes in air traffic routes — visible with civilian flight path tracking software — is generally seen when there is active fighting or expectations of it. A spokesperson for the Israel Airports Authority did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the matter.

Abu al-Ata was a prominent member of the Iran-backed Palestinian Islamic Jihad terror group, the commander of the Al-Quds Brigades’ units in the northern Gaza Strip, who the IDF believed was personally responsible for many attacks against Israel in the months before he was killed.

He was killed, along with his wife, in a precision strike on the apartment in which he was staying in Gaza City’s Shejaiya neighborhood, following months of preparation by the military.

Palestinian terror groups have been known to carry out attacks on the anniversaries of such conflicts.

Though Israel is involved in ongoing talks with the Hamas terror group regarding a long-term ceasefire agreement, recent weeks have seen an uptick in violence emanating from Gaza.

Two weeks ago, a drone was flown from the Strip into Israeli airspace before it was brought down by the Israeli military. The week before saw a rocket attack from the Strip, aimed at the Israeli city of Ashkelon. One projectile was intercepted, the other landed in an open field.

Last month, the IDF also uncovered what it said was a Hamas attack tunnel dug from Gaza into Israel.

Israel has fought three large campaigns against terror groups in the Strip since Hamas took control of the area in 2007, along with dozens of smaller exchanges of fire.

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