Rockets appear to target PM Netanyahu who was holding election rally in Ashdod, security guards forced him from stage; Iron Dome intercepts both
By TOI staff and Judah Ari Gross
Palestinian sources reported a series of Israeli airstrikes and loud explosions in the Gaza Strip early Wednesday, just hours after Gaza terrorists fired two rockets the southern cities of Ashdod and Ashkelon while Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was holding an election rally there.
Heavy strikes were reported in Beit Lahiya just north of Gaza City, Deir el-Balah in central Gaza and also in Khan Younis in the south.
It was not immediately clear what the targets were and there was no immediate confirmation from the IDF.
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The strikes came after Netanyahu who is also defense minister met with the IDF chiefs, along with the head of the Mossad and the Shin Bet Security agency at the military headquarters in Tel Aviv
Initial video of one of the strikes pic.twitter.com/GpfvkTuZjv
— Israel Conflict News (@IsraelGazaICN) September 10, 2019
Netanyahu was forced to seek shelter during a campaign event in Ashdod on Tuesday night as rocket sirens went off. Both were intercepted by the Iron Dome air defense system, according to the Israel Defense Forces.
Israeli analysts said it appeared that Gaza terrorist deliberately targeted the southern cities, knowing that Netanyahu and other politicians were holding rallies there. Netanyahu’s rally was being live-streamed on his Facebook page.
Most recent rocket fire from the Strip has targeted surrounding communities, only firing at large Israelis cities during major flare-ups or if trying to provoke a heavy Israeli response.
Early Wednesday, Palestinian media reported that an IDF tank had fired a shell at empty Hamas position in southern Gaza, causing no injuries. There was no comment from the IDF.
One woman, 46, in Ashdod was treated for anxiety after failing to reach shelter, medics said, but no other injuries or damage were reported.
The rocket fire came as Netanyahu was about to begin a speech to Likud supporters a week before Israelis head to the polls.
In an extraordinary scene captured on video, Netanyahu can be seen being whisked away from the stage by a gaggle of security guards as sirens sound.
“Leave quietly,” Netanyahu told the crowd before calmly walking off the stage.
He returned minutes later to resume his speech.
רגע הפינוי של ראש הממשלה נתניהו, אחרי שהופעלה אזעקה באשוד. pic.twitter.com/Y2KLOnrx8d
— almog boker (@bokeralmog) September 10, 2019
However, Netanyahu was still widely panned by his political rivals for being forced off stage.
In nearby Ashkelon, Blue and White MK Gabi Ashkenazi had to cut a campaign event short due to the rocket fire.
The city of Ashkelon opened its public bomb shelters after the sirens went off as a precautionary measure in case rocket attacks persisted.
On Sunday, a rocket was fired from Gaza at southern Israel, but landed inside the enclave, short of the border.
The attempted rocket attack came as an Egyptian military intelligence delegation visited Gaza on Sunday in a bid to calm heightened tensions between Israel and terror groups in the Strip.
Egypt has in the past helped broker unofficial ceasefires between Israel and Hamas.
Netanyahu warned Hamas on Saturday that Israel would respond forcefully to any attempt to harm its citizens and soldiers, following two days of violent incidents on and near the Gaza border.
The weekend saw a string of violent incidents along the Gaza border, after several weeks of relative calm.
On Friday night, incoming rockets set off sirens in Israeli communities along the Gaza border. The Israel Defense Forces said it had identified five projectiles that had crossed the border into Israeli territory. Israeli artillery and aircraft attacked several military targets belonging to the Hamas terror group in the northern Gaza Strip in retaliation, the IDF said.
The exchange of fire came hours after two Palestinian teens were reportedly killed in clashes with Israeli troops along the border, in what the IDF called “especially violent” riots.
The deadly clashes came just days after Israel lifted restrictions on fuel deliveries to Gaza, a week after curbing them by half due to rocket and mortar fire from the coastal enclave.
Since the outbreak of protests on the Gaza border last year, Israel has intermittently taken a number of steps to stem outbreaks of violence from the coastal territory, such as closing border crossings, cutting fuel shipments, and reducing the permitted fishing area off the coast of the Strip. It has rolled back such moves following decreases in violence.
A deal was brokered several months ago by UN and Egyptian officials to end several violent flare-ups in recent months between Israel and Hamas, which have fought three devastating wars since 2008, and to help stabilize the territory and prevent a humanitarian collapse.