Two Israelis have been killed and two others critically wounded in the city of Ashkelon by Palestinian rocket fire today.
Hamas boasted that it was able to launch its “largest ever barrage” with the firing of 137 missiles in 5 minutes, aimed at Ashkelon and the neighboring city of Ashdod. At least 80 residents of both cities been wounded.
The violence comes as part of a relentless attack by Gaza, that began last night with the firing of missiles at Jerusalem for the first time in 7 years.
Air raid sirens blared in warning of an impending terror attack from Gaza at the start of a missile barrage throughout Israel that began last night and is ongoing at this hour.
Members of the Knesset, which was in session at the time, were also forced into bomb shelters. Residents and others who came to the Israeli capital to join in festivities for annual Jerusalem Day events celebrating the city’s 1967 reunification were sent rushing for cover, while others resiliently continued marching in a flag parade despite police orders that the event be halted.
The IDF confirmed that 7 missiles were launched from the Gaza Strip, in what were the first attacks on the Jerusalem area since the 2014 war with the lawless Palestinian enclave. 1 of the rockets was intercepted by the Iron Dome aerial defense system.
United Hatzalah volunteer paramedics treated a number of people in Jerusalem as well as in the nearby town of Kiryat Yearim, who sustained light injuries.
The strikes came just after the expiration of a 6 PM ultimatum issued by the Islamist Hamas terror group that Israel remove all security forces from the Temple Mount and nearby disputed neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah – where clashes with Muslim rioters had been raging throughout the day. The Gaza rulers also demanded the release of Palestinians arrested in previous bouts of violence by the same deadline. The Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) terror groups in Gaza issued similar demands.
“This is a message the enemy must understand well,” said a spokesman for the Izz al-Din al-Qassam Brigades military wing of Hamas, Abu Obeida, who asserted that the rocket attacks were a response to what he referred to as Israeli “crimes and aggression” in Jerusalem.
Local media reported that the attacks on Israel were greeted by cheering Palestinians at the Damascus Gate entrance into the Old City, which has been a flashpoint of violence since the beginning of Ramadan on 13 April.
A short time later, an Israeli man was evacuated to hospital after an anti-tank missile was fired from the northern Gaza Strip into Israel in an attack claimed by the PIJ.
Hundreds of rockets then began to pound Israel, ranging from Gaza border communities and the southern cities of Ashkelon and Sderot.
According to the IDF, about a third of the Palestinian rockets fell short, causing damage and casualties inside Gaza.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu declared the attacks a “red line” and held a latenight security consultation with Defense Minister Benny Gantz, IDF Chief-of-Staff Lt. Gen. Aviv Kochavi, the head of the Israeli Security Agency, the head of the National Security Council and other senior officials.
The lack of greater casualties in the targeted Israeli population centers so far is being attributed to the 90% interception rate of the incoming Palestinian missiles by the Iron Dome defense system. This afternoon’s onslaught of 137 rockets in 5 minutes is thought to have been carried out in attempts to surpass the Iron’s Dome’s capabilities.
International efforts to stem the violence appear to already be underway. A Palestinian official told Reuters that Egypt, Qatar and the United Nations – all of which have mediated truces between Israel and Hamas in the past – have been in contact with the group’s leader Ismail Haniyeh.
Israel views all of Jerusalem as the eternal and indivisible capital of the Jewish People, while Palestinians demand the eastern sector as capital of a state they seek in Gaza and the West Bank.