image Photo: Flash90

Israel-Gaza tensions surge

Violence between the sides escalated following the Hamas firing of a rocket that damaged an Israeli home last night.

By Jonathan Hessen and Erin Viner

Air raid sirens blared at 10:30 PM last night in the southern Israeli town of Sderot, forcing residents to rush to safety in bomb shelters within the fifteen second time advisory issued by the IDF Home Front Command.

The incoming projectile was successfully intercepted by the Iron Dome surface-to-air system, although shrapnel from rocket-debris slammed into a residential home and nearby parked car, causing minor damage. There were no reported injuries in the attack.

Israeli jets carried out pre-dawn retaliatory strikes on Gaza. The IDF Spokesperson’s Unit said the targets included a Hamas “military post,” as well as the “entrance to a terror tunnel leading to a central underground complex, containing raw chemicals used for the manufacturing of rocket engines;” and that the “strike will significantly impede rocket manufacturing capabilities in the Gaza Strip.”

The Israeli military reiterated that it “holds the Hamas terrorist organization responsible for all terror activity emanating from the Gaza Strip.”

During the offensive by the Israeli Air Force (IAF), the Islamist Hamas launched several outdated SAM-7 anti-aircraft projectiles toward the Israeli aircraft that missed, as well as four more rockets fired indiscriminately at Israel’s southern communities that were successfully intercepted by Israel’s aerial defense array.

In response, IAF fighter jets launched a second aerial strike targeting “a military compound used by the Hamas terrorist organization’s aerial array in the Gaza Strip.”

The IDF Spokesperson’s Unit stressed that “this strike was carried out in response to an anti-aircraft attack during the previous IDF strike on terror targets in the Gaza Strip, and in addition to the strike carried out by the IDF” earlier overnight.

Air raid sirens were sounded yet again a short time after the second IAF strike, which the IDF announced was the result of yet another rocket fired from the Palestinian enclave that failed to reach Israel but had instead landed inside of the Hamas-controlled territory.

Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz held a meeting with community leaders of southern communities, where he stressed that the security establishment remains prepared for any scenario to guarantee the security of Israeli civilians in both offensive and defense operations while responding with force against any terror activity.

Hamas and Iranian-proxy Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) terror groups issued fresh threats against Israel, warning that they are prepared for war if the situation in Jerusalem further escalates.

Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett issued a statement underscoring that, “Jerusalem is the city, the capital of Israel, the nation state of the Jewish people. We lived in a reality where Jerusalem was divided into two and we are never going to accept that reality again.”

Palestinian youth once again exacerbated tensions on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem this morning ahead of a scheduled tour by Jews to the ancient compound where both Biblical Temples once stood. Many of the rioters barricaded themselves within the Al-Aqsa Mosque, from which the shot fireworks and hurled rocks at Israeli police trying to restore calm.

After the quelling of the violence, the Islamic Waqf administrators of the site once again issued an inflammatory statement; claiming that Israel had enacted a “siege” over the past several days and evicted Muslim worshippers and “those who are taking sanctuary” at the mosque.

Israeli leaders have strongly refuted the allegations and maintain that any actions at the site have been taken to prevent Palestinian violence.

Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid told a delegation of US State Department officials visiting Tel Aviv to discuss the escalation of hostilities that, “The State of Israel is dealing with extremist Islamist terror whose entire goal is to sow violence, fear, and chaos.”

Jerusalem’s top diplomat went on to call on “all leaders in the region to act and speak responsibly in order to calm the situation” while underscoring that “Israel is preserving and will continue to preserve the status quo on the Temple Mount” while pledging that there are “no intention of changing it whatsoever.”

He further stressed that Israel “will not accept in any situation, rocket fire from the Gaza Strip on the State of Israel. Hamas and the entire world must know that Israel will act and will do everything necessary to defend the security of its citizens.”

Participating in the meeting were Acting Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs Yael Lempert, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Israeli & Palestinian Affairs Hady Amr, and U.S. Ambassador to Israel Tom Nides.

A White House reiterated concern over the escalation of hostilities and urged “Israeli and Palestinian officials to work cooperatively to lower tensions and ensure the safety of everyone. And we, of course, continue to closely follow the situation on the ground and stay in touch through diplomatic channels.”

The statement underscored that the US is “deeply concerned by the recent violence in Jerusalem at the Temple Mount — on the Temple Mount and across the West Bank, we also strongly condemn the recent rocket attack on Israel,” said the statement, calling for “all sides to exercise restraint, avoid provocative actions and rhetoric, and preserve the historic status quo of the Haram al-Sharif Temple Mount.”

Israeli Defense Minister Gantz issued a statement emphasizing that, “Israel has ensured and will continue to ensure and defend freedom of prayer, the status quo on the Temple Mount and most importantly – the security of all the citizens of the area.” Stressing that “the terrorists who are throwing rocks and inciting to violence on the Temple Mount are the ones that are harming the majority of the people who wish to celebrate Ramadan in peace,” he called on “Palestinian leadership and all the region’s leaders to act responsibly to ensure security stability and to expand the civil policy” Israel hopes to implement ahead of the Eid al-Fitr feast marking the end of the Islamic month of Ramadan, set to be held 1-2 May.