Palestinian terrorists in the Gaza Strip fired 13 rockets into southern Israel before dawn on Wednesday, eight of which were intercepted by the Iron Dome system, the Israel Defense Forces said. The attack apparently came in response to Israel signing peace deals with the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain.
The projectiles were fired over the course of half an hour, prompting the second of two waves of overnight strikes by the Israeli Air Force on Hamas targets across Gaza.
The predawn attacks from the Strip triggered sirens at least five times over a half-hour period — from roughly 4:30 a.m. to 5 a.m. — in the town of Sderot and communities in the Eshkol and Sha’ar Hanegev regions early Wednesday. The IDF said several volleys were fired, totaling 13 rockets. Soldiers operating the Iron Dome missile defense system intercepted eight of the incoming projectiles, the military said.
It was not immediately clear where the other five rockets struck. There were no immediate reports of injuries or damage, indicating they likely hit empty fields.
Despite the overnight rocket attacks, schools opened as usual for students in communities surrounding the Gaza Strip, local officials said.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Benny Gantz held security consultations on Wednesday morning about the outbreak of violence.
No Palestinian terror group took responsibility for the rockets, though both Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad put out statements in support of them, indicating they’d at least given their tacit approval for the launches.
Witnesses reported a series of loud explosions, and videos showed Iron Dome interceptors streaking up to destroy incoming rockets.
Imagens do sistema de defesa israelense, Irom Dome em ação contra os foguetes disparados da faixa de Gaza que tinham como alvo, o sul de Israel. pic.twitter.com/PEAauhNQ7L
— Conflitos e Guerras (@ConflitoeGuerrA) September 16, 2020
The rocket fire represented the first attacks since an unofficial ceasefire agreement was reached between Israel and terror groups in the Strip late last month and the largest barrage since February.
Israeli aircraft conducted two rounds of strikes in the Gaza Strip before dawn Wednesday, the army said.
The initial raid came in response to an attack on Tuesday night in which two rockets were fired from the Gaza Strip at Israel, one of which struck the city of Ashdod, injuring two people.
The IDF said warplanes and attack helicopters hit some 10 targets across Gaza, including an armaments workshop and a Hamas training base used for rocket testing.
The second round of retaliatory strikes came a short time later, in response to the 13-rocket fusillade.
The army said it holds Hamas, the de facto ruler of Gaza, responsible for any violence emanating from the Strip.
— Joe Truzman (@Jtruzmah) September 16, 2020
In the initial assault from Gaza on Tuesday night, the rockets triggered sirens in the cities of Ashkelon and Ashdod, potentially sending hundreds of thousands of residents rushing to bomb shelters just as the country’s leader was signing historic accords with two Gulf states, vociferously opposed by the Palestinians. According to the IDF, soldiers operating the Iron Dome missile defense system intercepted one of the incoming projectiles.
The second rocket struck a street in Ashdod, lightly damaging it and nearby storefronts and knocking down a tree. Security camera footage from the scene showed the moment of impact in Ashdod, as the rocket exploded as it slammed into the street.
The Magen David Adom ambulance service said one man, 62, was moderately injured, sustaining shrapnel wounds to his upper body from the rocket. The second man, 28, suffered light injuries to his extremities from broken glass. Four other people suffered anxiety attacks as a result of the rocket fire, medics said.
The two men were taken to Ashdod’s Assuta Medical Center for treatment, MDA said. Doctors there said the 62-year-old’s condition worsened overnight, though doctors said there was no imminent threat to his life. He was reportedly delivering food to needy families when he was hit by the shrapnel.
The rocket attacks on Ashkelon and Ashdod came as a signing ceremony was taking place in Washington to mark the establishment of formal ties between Israel and the United Arab Emirates and between Israel and Bahrain.
“On this historic night of peace, we received a reminder from our enemies that we must always be strong and prepared to defend Israeli citizens on all fronts and at all times — and this we will do,” Defense Minister Benny Gantz said in response to the attack.
Later on Tuesday night, IDF troops caught two Palestinian men who entered Israel from the southern Gaza Strip. It was not immediately clear if they were armed. “The suspects are being interrogated at the scene,” the military said.
Terror groups in the Strip have in the past attempted to interrupt major Israeli festivities with attacks. Indeed, television footage of the signing ceremony on Tuesday night was accompanied by information from the IDF Home Front Command about the areas where rocket sirens were triggered.
The TV screens in #Israel this evening – one side is the ceremony of signing of the normalization accords between the UAE,Bahrain and #Israel , and the other side is the Homefront Command alert system warning of rocket fire towards all districts of Ashdod and Asheklon from #Gaza pic.twitter.com/DbcvnqOaq9
— parallel_universe #FreeNavalny (@ignis_fatum) September 15, 2020
Gaza Palestinians rallied against the deal earlier in the day, burning pictures of the leaders of all four countries and their flags.
Qatar, Egypt and the United Nations brokered an unofficial ceasefire agreement between Israel and terror groups in the Strip last month, following weeks of heightened tensions between the two sides.
Aaron Boxerman and Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.