Palestinian Islamists launch a barrage of rockets toward Israel

Palestinian Islamists launched a barrage of rockets from the Gaza Strip towards civilian communities in the Jewish state, in a spike of hostilities that Israeli security officials warned “may deteriorate the situation into a conflagration.” The escalation started shortly after 9PM last night, when two Fajr missiles were fired from Gaza toward the greater Tel Aviv area, for the first time since 2014.

Tel Aviv Resident Yonah Zeff was quoted as saying “I heard the rocket and I heard the siren going off it was a bit surprising I didn’t think that, you know, it could really reach Tel Aviv and then I heard an explosion about 10-20-30 seconds later.”

The IDF Spokesperson’s unit informed TV7 that the deployed Iron Dome anti-rocket batteries operated as required – as the two Fajr rockets exploded in uninhabited areas, causing no injuries or damage. In response to the incident, Israeli Minister Naftali Bennett, who is a member of Jerusalem’s security cabinet, stressed that the time to act unilaterally to demilitarize Hamas was imperative, in order to defend Israel’s civilian population. According to Bennett: “Two rockets were shot from the Gaza Strip on to Tel Aviv, this continues about a year of rockets shot from the Gaza Strip on the citizens of southern Israel. It is time to defeat Hamas, it is time to act and unilaterally demilitarize Hamas in order to defend Israeli citizens.”

In response to the escalation, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu immediately called for an emergency meeting with IDF Chief of Staff Aviv Kochavi and other senior Defense officials. Shortly thereafter, the IDF Spokesperson’s unit announced that the Israeli Air Force launched a wide-scale bombardment of terror targets across the Gaza Strip, including in the Reemal Neighborhood of Gaza City, which houses (among others) the main headquarters of the Islamist Hamas organization.

An IDF Spokesperson told TV7 upon conclusion of the Israeli bombardment, that approximately 100 terror targets in the Gaza Strip were attacked, by means of fighter-jets, attack helicopters and other offensive aircrafts. He further emphasized that “the rocket launch towards the (Greater Tel Aviv) area… was carried out by the Hamas terror organization.” It is important to note that a senior military source told TV7 that “the operation rooms in the IDF General Staff and in the Southern Command have been operating in a format that indicates that it is preparing for a general deterioration,” and that “the IDF is awaiting its orders to launch a wide-scale military operation from the political echelon (in Jerusalem).” That said, our source who asked to remain anonymous refrained from speculating on possible developments, because of the sensitive political situation across the Jewish state, which is due to hold national Parliamentary elections within three and a half weeks, on the 9th of April.

Since last night nine rockets were fired toward Israel’s southern communities, in addition to the two that were fired toward the greater Tel Aviv region. The first rocket was fired shortly after the Israeli bombardment of Gaza began. Nevertheless, it failed to cross the border and exploded within the Palestinian enclave. Shortly afterwards, two rockets were launched toward the Sha’ar Ha-Negev and Sdot Negev regional councils. While one projectile was successfully intercepted by an Iron-Dome battery, the second rocket exploded in an open area. Several hours thereafter, six rockets were launched toward the southern city of Sderot and the Sha’ar Hanegev regional council. Five of those projectiles were intercepted, while the sixth exploded in an uninhabited area. Thankfully, no injuries were reported.

In an unusual step that indicates an attempt by Hamas to prevent further escalation, the Gazan Interior Ministry claimed that the rocket fire went “against the (Palestinian) national consensus” and promised to take action against the perpetrators. Furthermore, a source Hamas source told TV7 that “the group’s leadership was holding a meeting with an Egyptian Intelligence delegation on strengthening a cessation of hostilities with Israel when the rockets were fired; clearly absolving Hamas from any responsibility.” The official further stressed that “while three casualties and extensive destruction to facilities was recorded, as a result from the Israeli bombardment, Hamas is working to control the situation in Gaza and contain the latest events, to reinforce calm on both sides.” He also underscored that “ongoing efforts to identify those responsible, and deal with them, are continuing.”

In addition to the denial of Hamas, its Iranian-backed ally – the Islamic Jihad, also denied firing the rockets. Nevertheless, the military wing of the Iranian-backed group declared a general mobilization of its militants putting them on alert of a possible escalation.  The Islamic Jihad issued a statement saying that Israel, which it referred to as “the occupation” ‘would bear responsibility for the results of its aggression and that it seemed that it had misunderstood the rules of the presiding ceasefire.’

Meanwhile, U.S. President Donald Trump’s Special Representative for International Negotiations Jason Greenblatt publicly accused Hamas of the rocket fire at Israel’s cities, and declared full support for Israel’s right to defend its citizens.

It is important to note that Israeli media outlets claimed that the initial rocket-fire from the Gaza Strip toward the greater Tel Aviv area was apparently the result of a technical malfunction. When TV7 asked the IDF on the matter, it refused to provide a clear answer.