US peace envoy says Gaza rocket attack ‘sets back’ humanitarian efforts
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US peace envoy says Gaza rocket attack ‘sets back’ humanitarian efforts

Jason Greenblatt condemns fire from Hamas-ruled Palestinian enclave, notes resulting closure of schools in Beersheba

A man watches a house that was hit by a missile fired from Gaza Strip, in the city of Beersheba, southern Israel, Wednesday, Oct. 17, 2018. (AP/Tsafrir Abayov)
A man watches a house that was hit by a missile fired from Gaza Strip, in the city of Beersheba, southern Israel, Wednesday, Oct. 17, 2018. (AP/Tsafrir Abayov)

US President Donald Trump’s envoy for Middle East peace condemned the firing of rockets Wednesday from the Gaza Strip toward Israel, accusing the coastal enclave’s Hamas rulers of undermining humanitarian efforts in the Palestinian territory.

One of the rockets launched overnight struck a home in Beersheba, leading to the closure of schools in the southern city, while the other landed off the coast of the Tel Aviv metropolitan area. The Israel Defense Forces said it struck some 20 targets in Gaza in response to the rocket fire.

“This morning schools across Beer Sheva, Israel were closed because of rocket attacks from Gaza,” Jason Greenblatt wrote on Twitter.

“Once again, the regime in Gaza sets back the world’s efforts to better the lives of Palestinians in Gaza and endangers & harms Israelis,” he added.

US peace envoy Jason Greenblatt (L) is seen during a visit to the border between Israel and the Gaza Strip on August 30, 2017. (David Azagury/US Embassy Tel Aviv/Flash90)

No group in Gaza has claimed the rocket attack. Hamas, which rules the Strip, and fellow terror organization Islamic Jihad issued a statement denying they were behind it. Israel said it holds Hamas responsible as the enclave’s ruler while officials noted only Hamas and Islamic Jihad had the capability of shooting rockets that could reach Beersheba.

Greenblatt’s condemnation came after the European Union Wednesday said that rocket fire toward Israel must stop immediately.

An EU spokesperson said in a statement that “indiscriminate attacks against civilians are completely unacceptable.”

A damage to the house that was hit by a missile fired from Gaza Strip, is seen in the city of Beersheba, southern Israel, Wednesday, Oct. 17, 2018. (AP/Tsafrir Abayov)

The European body also called for calm after Israel struck back with some 20 airstrikes in the Strip, saying that de-escalation has to be the priority.

“The cycle of violence and despair has to be broken. Only a political solution can put an end to the violence,” the statement read.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said that Israel would “act forcefully” in response to the rocket attack, as a shaky calm appeared to return to the area. The comments came after the prime minister met with top security officials for emergency consultations over the flareup, which sent already high border tensions skyrocketing.

He later convened a meeting of the high-level security cabinet to discuss the security situation in the south, as the head of the IDF’s Southern Command warned Hamas that Israel could respond more forcefully the next time.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the headquarters of the IDF’s Gaza Division on October 17, 2018. (Amos Ben Gershom/GPO)

Egypt and the UN have reportedly scrambled to try to negotiate a calm between the sides since the rocket attack on Beersheba, which came days after Israeli leaders had already threatened a wider offensive over near-daily border riots and launches of incendiary balloons and kites.

Reports Wednesday said that Abbas Kamel, head of the Egyptian General Intelligence Services, had cancelled a trip to Gaza, the West Bank and Israel set for Thursday amid the tensions surrounding Gaza.

There were no injuries in Wednesday’s attack, despite the rocket scoring a direct hit on a home, after mother Miri Tamano managed to drag her three sons into a reinforced bomb shelter seconds before the strike.

It was only the second rocket fired at Beersheba since the 2014 Gaza war. The previous rocket, which struck a field north of Beersheba on August 9, came as Palestinians fired dozens of projectiles at Israeli communities along the Gaza border.

Rocket attacks on Beersheba — home to more than 200,000 people — are rare and considered a major escalation.

Deputy Defense Minister Eli Ben Dahan said an Iron Dome anti-missile battery would be deployed in the Beersheba area in the wake of the attack, a possible signal Israel expects hostilities with Gaza to continue despite the tentative calm that had taken hold by Wednesday afternoon.

Smoke billows following an Israeli airstrike in the southern Gaza Strip city of Rafah on October 17, 2018. (Said Khatib/AFP)

Since March 30, Palestinians in the Gaza Strip have participated in a series of protests and riots dubbed the “Great March of Return,” which have mostly involved the burning of tires and rock-throwing along the security fence, but have also seen shooting attacks and bombings as well as the sending of incendiary balloons and kites into Israel that have burned 7,000 acres of land.

There have also been several flareups that took Israel and Hamas to the brink of war, with Palestinians firing rockets into Israel and the IDF responding with airstrikes.

Some 155 Palestinians have been killed and thousands more have been injured in the clashes with IDF troops, according to AP figures; Hamas has acknowledged that dozens of the dead were its members. One Israeli soldier was shot dead by a sniper on the border.

Judah Ari Gross contributed to this report.

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