In 2nd attack, rocket lands near school in Gaza-border kibbutz

Rafah rocket volley targets Tel Aviv area, in first such attack in 4 months

One person lightly hurt when shrapnel hits a house in Herzliya; Hamas takes responsibility for attack, which IDF predicted would be likely as troops push into southern Gaza city

An Israeli man inspects the damage in a house hit during a rocket attack from the Gaza Strip in the city of Herzliya on May 26, 2024. (JACK GUEZ / AFP)
An Israeli man inspects the damage in a house hit during a rocket attack from the Gaza Strip in the city of Herzliya on May 26, 2024. (JACK GUEZ / AFP)

The Hamas terror group fired eight rockets at central Israel on Sunday afternoon, marking the most significant attack out of the Gaza Strip in some four months and underscoring some of the challenges remaining for the Israeli military as it seeks to oust the Palestinian group from its last major stronghold.

Three of the projectiles were downed by the Iron Dome anti-missile system, according to an Israel Defense Forces spokesperson, and five landed in open areas.

A home in the Tel Aviv suburb of Herzliya suffered minor damage from falling shrapnel, police said, and two people suffered light injuries, but no serious losses were reported.

In Kfar Saba, northeast of Tel Aviv, at least one rocket struck an open field causing a large crater, images showed.

The attack, which came at about 2 p.m., was swiftly claimed by Hamas’s Al-Qassam Brigades armed wing, which said it “bombarded Tel Aviv in response to Zionist massacres of civilians.”

Some 80 minutes later, rocket sirens rang out in several communities adjacent to Gaza, including some where residents have returned to live in the last several months.

One projectile landed next to a school in Kibbutz Sa’ad, lightly damaging a car but causing no injuries.

The attacks served as a reminder of the terror group’s armed capabilities, despite more than seven months of an intense Israeli military campaign aimed at eliminating Hamas following its October 7 onslaught on southern Israel.

The volley at central Israel was launched from Rafah, a city on Gaza’s southern edge that is currently the focus of Israel’s military campaign, amid intense international concern for the wellbeing of the million-plus Gazans who had fled to the city from elsewhere in the Strip for shelter before Israel launched its offensive there. Over the past few weeks, close to a million Gazans have evacuated the city as IDF troops advanced.

A picture taken by a soldier near the Rafah Crossing between Gaza and Egypt showed streaks of white smoke reaching skyward from a short distance away; the proximity between the attackers and the troops underlined the difficulties facing Israel as it attempts to destroy Hamas’s remaining forces in the city.

Rockets are seen launched from the Rafah area in the southern Gaza Strip, May 26, 2024. (Courtesy: via @IDF on X)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has said Israel must take over Rafah to eliminate Hamas’s last remaining battalions and achieve its goal of “total victory” over the group, though Hamas fighters have recently regrouped in other parts of Gaza where the military had already operated.

Israel believes Hamas leaders and many operatives are hiding in Rafah, along with an unspecified number of hostages kidnapped in the Hamas-led October 7 atrocities. The city in southern Gaza is also one of the last locations where the IDF believed Hamas to have major rocket stockpiles.

The terror group is not believed by the IDF to have any rocket manufacturing capabilities amid the war, with the military taking out its major factories in other areas of Gaza.

According to a recent IDF assessment, military planners believed that the group was nonetheless capable of launching rocket attacks on central Israel from the Rafah area. The army had found it likely that the terror group would carry out such an attack when troops advanced further into the city, as it has operated in a similar way in other areas of Gaza.

People take cover near the city of Herzliya as rockets are fired from the Gaza Strip on May 26, 2024. (JACK GUEZ / AFP)

Amid the war, Hamas has repeatedly carried out rocket attacks from areas where troops are advancing, in an attempt to prevent Israeli forces from capturing their stockpiles.

The complexities of uprooting Hamas from Rafah’s dense urban environment, and the terror group’s warren of underground tunnels and hideouts, were compounded Friday when the International Court of Justice issued a significant but somewhat ambiguous ruling instructing Israel to stop military activities that could result in the destruction of the civilian population sheltering there.

Israel has pushed ahead with the offensive since the ruling, arguing that it leaves room for some operations in Rafah and rejecting interpretations that say it required Israel halt the offensive altogether.

“What they are asking us is not to commit genocide in Rafah. We did not commit genocide and we will not commit genocide,” Netanyahu’s national security adviser, Tzachi Hanegbi, told Channel 12 news Saturday.

Nonetheless, an Israeli source with knowledge of the government’s thinking told The Times of Israel Sunday that the IDF would alter its operation in Rafah for the near future, due to pressure from The Hague and in deference to hostage talks potentially restarting this week. The army would continue to operate, but in a relatively restrained manner, the source said.

Smoke billows following Israeli airstrikes on Rafah, in the southern Gaza Strip, on May 25, 2024. (Eyad Baba / AFP)

The military had already argued that its offensive in Rafah was being carried out in a pinpoint manner, in response to demands from the US, its most important ally.

Earlier Sunday, the army said troops killed “terrorist operatives” who attempted to attack soldiers carrying out “targeted operations in the area of Rafah.”

Israeli troops in the city “located tunnel shafts and large quantities of weapons, including AK-47s, RPGs, grenades and explosives” and struck two rocket launchers that were aimed at the Kerem Shalom border crossing, it said.

The army also announced that troops had uncovered an underground weapons depot last week while raiding a building in Rafah suspected of being used by Hamas as a meeting point.

Defense Minister Yoav Gallant traveled to Rafah Sunday to be briefed on operations there, the army said.

Defense Minister Yoav Gallant meets with IDF officers in southern Gaza’s Rafah, May 26, 2024 (Ariel Hermoni/Defense Ministry)

“Our goal[s] in the Gaza Strip have become much clearer here in Rafah — to eliminate Hamas, bring back the hostages and maintain freedom of action, this is a key thing,” he told troops in the city.

Following the rocket attack, war cabinet minister Benny Gantz argued that the rocket launches showed the need for Israel to push ahead with its military offensive.

“Today’s [missile] fire from Rafah proves the IDF must act wherever Hamas is and so it will be,” he said while visiting a military base in southern Israel.

War broke out on October 7 when thousands of Hamas-led terrorists stormed southern Israeli communities and army positions, killing around 1,200 people, mostly civilians, taking 252 hostages and committing other atrocities.

A Palestinian man walks past a destroyed building in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip on May 26, 2024 (Eyad BABA / AFP)

Israel’s government has vowed to destroy the group to keep it from being able to launch such an assault ever again and to recover the hostages, 121 of whom are still held in Gaza, along with two civilians and the bodies of two soldiers held there for nearly a decade.

Staff Sgt. Betzalel Zvi Kovach. (Israel Defense Forces)

The ensuing military campaign has killed over 35,000 Gazans, according to the Strip’s Hamas-run health authorities, whose numbers cannot be verified, and do not differentiate between civilians and combatants. Israel says it has killed some 15,000 Palestinian fighters in battle, as well as some 1,000 terrorists inside Israel on October 7.

Two hundred and eighty-seven Israeli soldiers have been killed during the ground offensive against Hamas and amid operations along the Gaza border, including Staff Sgt. Betzalel Zvi Kovach, 20, who died Sunday of wounds sustained during fighting in northern Gaza on May 22, the IDF said.

A civilian Defense Ministry contractor has also been killed in the Strip.

As the war has persisted, once-constant rocket attacks from Gaza have steadily slackened and largely been relegated to areas directly adjacent to the Strip; concerns of air attacks have meanwhile largely shifted to Israel’s northern border, where the Hezbollah terror group has carried out near-daily rocket, missile and drone attacks from southern Lebanon.

Sunday’s Hamas attack triggered air raid sirens in a large swath of central Israel, including the economic hub of Tel Aviv and most of its environs to the north, coming as many children were getting out of school at 2 p.m. Alarms sounded as far north as the town of Tel Yitzhak, a suburb of Netanya some 120 kilometers (75 miles) away from Rafah.

This picture shows the damaged roof of a house after a rocket fired by Hamas damaged a home in Herzliya on May 26, 2024. (JACK GUEZ / AFP)

As hundreds of thousands scrambled for cover, shrapnel from one rocket slammed into the roof of a house in Herzliya where an elderly women lived with her caretaker, causing part of it to collapse into a bedroom where the caretaker had been.

“There was a strong boom. I thought the whole house collapsed,” said Narkis Bezalel, 85. The caretaker was hospitalized with light injuries, along with another woman injured while running for shelter.

Shrapnel pieces also fell in Ra’anana and other nearby cities.

The last Gazan rocket attack on Tel Aviv occurred on January 29, when 10 rockets were launched at the city and its southern environs. The last assault to reach north of Tel Aviv came on December 21, when a fusillade of about a dozen rockets were fired at Kfar Saba and other cities.

Lazar Berman and Sam Sokol contributed to this report.

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