Rocket fired at south for 4th day in a row amid escalating tensions; no injuries

Sirens send hundreds to bomb shelters; balloon-borne explosives flown into Israel from Gaza throughout the day; thousands attend southern flower festival despite tensions

Illustrative: Rockets are launched from the Gaza Strip towards Israel, November 13, 2019. (AP/ Hatem Moussa)
Illustrative: Rockets are launched from the Gaza Strip towards Israel, November 13, 2019. (AP/ Hatem Moussa)

Palestinian terrorists fired a rocket at Israeli communities east of the Gaza Strip on Saturday night as tensions escalated in the region amid daily missile attacks from the Palestinian enclave, the military said.

No damage or injuries were caused.

The attack triggered sirens in the kibbutz communities of Nahal Oz and Alumim in the Sha’ar Hanegev region, sending hundreds of residents rushing to bomb shelters.

A spokesperson for the region said the impact site was found in an open field.

Channel 13 news on Saturday cited an unnamed IDF official who warned Gaza could be approaching a point of no return, and continued rocket fire would lead the IDF to a harsher response than that seen so far.

The attack occurred while Blue and White party leader Benny Gantz and other top members of his faction were visiting the area, forcing them to hold their meeting with residents in a bomb shelter.

Saturday was the fourth day in a row in which terrorists in the Strip fired rockets or mortar shells at southern Israel.

Throughout the day on Saturday, a number of balloons suspected of carrying explosive devices were launched from the Gaza Strip into southern Israel.

A bunch of balloons attached to an incendiary device is prepared to be flown into Israel, near the Israel-Gaza border east of Al-Bureij refugee camp in the central Gaza Strip, January 22, 2020. (Ail Ahmed/Flash90)

Balloon clusters were found in the Lachish and Merhavim regional councils to the east of Gaza. Police sappers were called to handle the potential bombs.

Explosive devices and incendiary devices tied to balloons have increasingly been floating over the border from Gaza in recent weeks.

Late last month a senior Hamas official said the recent string of balloons was a signal to Israel to accelerate unofficial “understandings” meant to ease the blockade on the territory ruled by the terror group.

Speaking to journalists, Hamas official Khalil al-Hayya claimed the balloons had been launched by disgruntled individuals, not Hamas. But he said his group was “satisfied” with the launches and was ready to send more “if the occupation doesn’t pick up the message.”

Recent days have also seen an increase in rocket and mortar attacks from the Strip, in a possible response to the new US peace proposal resoundingly rejected by Palestinians.

Over the weekend thousands of families ignored the tensions in the south to take part in the Darom Adom (Red South) Festival in the northern Negev, so named for multitudes of red anemone flowers that bloom in the region during winter.

Events included guided tours and family events in the region, and organizers told Channel 12 they expected thousands more to attend in the coming weekends.

On Friday night, the Israeli Air Force carried out strikes on Hamas targets in Gaza in response to several attacks launched across the border earlier that day. Fighter jets hit “terror targets” belonging to Hamas following the rocket, mortar and explosives attacks, the Israel Defense Forces said in a statement.

Illustrative: Rockets are fired from the Gaza Strip toward Israel on November 13, 2019. (Anas Baba/AFP)

Also Friday, Palestinians in Gaza fired three rockets and three mortar shells into Israel, two of which were intercepted by the Iron Dome missile defense system.

Rocket sirens wailed in Sderot, Kibbutz Nir Yitzhak and Kibbutz Sufa, sending thousands of Israelis running to bomb shelters.

Hebrew media reports said several homes were lightly damaged by falling shrapnel from an interception. There were no reports of injuries.

The IDF warned Hamas, which controls Gaza, that if the recent spate of violence is not halted the military will respond with increasing force, Channel 13 quoted military officials as saying.

On Thursday night three rockets were fired at Israel, also triggering Israeli strikes in Gaza. A three-week-old girl was hospitalized with moderate head injuries after being hurt during a rush to a bomb shelter in Sderot. The girl’s mother, 30, was also hospitalized with light injuries, according to emergency services. Officials said the girl’s condition improved Friday morning.

Defense Minister Naftali Bennett has not commented on the recent round of violence. The Blue and White party on Friday called for a Knesset debate on Sunday to address the situation.

Tensions between Israel and Gaza have been steadily rising over the past two weeks after several months of relative calm. Fears have mounted in recent days of an escalation of violence in Gaza and the West Bank following the release of the US peace plan that is seen as heavily favoring Israel.

On Wednesday evening, the military announced it was deploying additional troops to the Gaza border and West Bank amid concerns that Palestinians may respond violently to the peace plan, which was released on Tuesday.

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