Sderot rocket strike prompts calls for major military operation in Gaza

Sderot rocket strike prompts calls for major military operation in Gaza

After religious school hit, several politicians say Israel should target Hamas leaders; Blue and White head Gantz calls for ‘attack of unprecedented intensity’

A rabbi stands inside a Jewish religious school in Sderot, Israel, after it was hit by a rocket fired from the Gaza Strip, Thursday, June 13, 2019. (AP/Tsafrir Abayov)
A rabbi stands inside a Jewish religious school in Sderot, Israel, after it was hit by a rocket fired from the Gaza Strip, Thursday, June 13, 2019. (AP/Tsafrir Abayov)

Israeli politicians on the right and center called for serious military action against Gaza Thursday, after a religious school in southern Israel was hit by a rocket launched from the Palestinian territory.

Gazan terrorists launched two missiles at Israel Thursday, breaking over a month of relative calm and bringing the sides once again inching toward full scale military conflict.

Former Israel Defense Forces chief Benny Gantz and former defense minister Avigdor Liberman, both of whom are leading parties competing in upcoming elections, called for severe action against the Hamas terror group that rules Gaza.

Gantz, head of the Blue and White party, urged an “attack of unprecedented intensity,” including targeting leaders of the terror group.

“Put the gun-sight on senior Hamas figures,” Gantz continued. “Afterwards exploit the quiet for a political initiative with economic leverage. Initiate a ceasefire with international mediation, and do not let Hamas dictate it.”

No Palestinian group has taken responsibility for the attack, but the military generally holds Hamas responsible for any violence emanating from the enclave.

There was no military response to the rocket strike as of midnight Thursday. There has no been no official government statement, including from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

The rocket struck the outer face of the yeshiva, sending debris onto the sidewalk. A number of tempered-glass windows were also broken. The rocket did not explode, however. Had it detonated, the devastation would have been far greater. Most students had gone home for the weekend, but several people were still inside the school at the time of the attack.

After the first rocket attack, which was intercepted by the Iron Dome anti-missile system in the pre-dawn hours of Thursday morning, Israeli aircraft bombed a Hamas underground facility in the southern Gaza Strip.

View of fishing boats at the port of Gaza City, June 13, 2019. (Hassan Jedi/Flash90)

Tensions with Gaza have been steadily rising in recent days, with Israel blocking Gazan fishermen access to the sea in response to incendiary balloons being launched over the border on Wednesday.

The tensions have threatened to undo an unofficial ceasefire brokered after a major flare-up in early May in which the sides exchanged the most intense fire in years, leading to the deaths of four Israelis and 29 Gazans. Gazans say Israel has been slow in implementing parts of the deal.

Gantz, who commanded of the Israel Defense Forces during the last major confrontation in Gaza in 2014, criticized the government for agreeing to transfer of millions of dollars in cash from Qatar to Hamas as part of the reported deal.

“When you deal with fishermen and the transfer of protection (money) from Qatar, you do not solve the crisis,” Gantz said in a statement. “So what do we do differently? First we carry out an attack of unprecedented intensity”

Blue and White party leader Benny Gantz at a faction meeting at the Knesset on June 12, 2019. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Liberman, who resigned from his Defense Ministry post last year in protest to what he said was the government’s light-handed treatment to attacks from Gaza, also called for Israel to stop brokering deals for calm with Hamas.

“We must deeply bury the ‘process of arrangements’ [with Hamas] and revive and renew Israeli deterrence,” he said.

Yisrael Beytenu party leader Avigdor Liberman holds a press conference in Tel Aviv on May 30, 2019. (Flash90)

“We must strike a severe blow to Hamas and bring about a halt to the launching of balloon firebombs and explosives, rockets and manufacturing of weapons, rioting on the border fence, and, of course, stopping the transfer of protection money,” he said.

MK Rafi Peretz, leader of the Union of Right-Wing Parties and a former chief rabbi in the military, linked the attack to the still unveiled US peace plan, which has been dubbed “the deal of the century.”

“When people in air conditioned lounges mix the ‘deal of the century’ with Sderot and the Gaza border area, children run in fear to the shelters,” he said in a statement. “We are obligated to turn this equation around — the fear must be transferred to the other side, to the leaders of Hamas, the sons of death who disrupt our lives without being punished.”

Senior URWP lawmaker Bezalel Smotrich said Israel should have taken disproportionate action to the initial rocket attack.

“If this morning after the first rocket, forty high-rise buildings were erased in central Gaza – the rocket that was launched this evening and damaged the…yeshiva in Sderot would not have been launched,” he said in a statement. “A painful military response is necessary in the short term.”

damage to a Jewish religious school is seen in Sderot, Israel, after it was hit by a rocket fired from the Gaza Strip, Thursday, June 13, 2019. (AP/Tsafrir Abayov)

There were no injuries as a result of the rocket Thursday night, but it caused extensive damage to a building housing a yeshiva in the southern city of Sderot, breaking windows and stripping concrete off the walls.

Sderot Mayor Alon Davidi, whose city has been pummeled by Gazan rockets for over 15 years, called for military action against Hamas leaders Ismail Haniya and Yahya Sinwar as part of a wider offensive.

“The situation as it is cannot continue,” he said. “As I said in the past, only a ground operation will bring peace to our region.”

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