Massive early morning rocket fire from Gaza shatters brief overnight calm

Attacks resume after six hours of quiet; schools in south closed; cabinet to meet to reassess situation after 200 rockets fired into Israel

TOI staffToday, 5:30 am

Israeli missile launched from the Iron Dome defence missile system, designed to intercept and destroy incoming short-range rockets and artillery shells, is seen above Gaza city on November 12, 2019. (Photo by BASHAR TALEB / AFP)

Palestinian terror groups resumed firing rockets into southern and central Israel after dawn Wednesday after a brief respite in the violence. The Iron Dome system intercepted several of the projectiles and there were no immediate reports of injuries or damage.

Sirens sounded in southern Israel and then later in central Israel near Latrun and Beit Shemesh. Residents reported loud explosions, apparently the Iron Dome interceptors taking down the rockets.

Another salvo was fired toward the southern city of Netivot.

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Iron Dome Tamir interceptor launched against rockets targeting Netivot. #Gaza #Israel

— Joe Truzman (@Jtruzmah) November 13, 2019
There were no immediate reports of casualties or damage.

The IDF on Wednesday morning said it targeted a squad of terrorists who were trying to launch rockets at Israel. The Palestinians reported that two people were killed and two people were injured in Israeli airstrikes, bringing the death toll in Gaza since Tuesday morning to 12.

The rocket fire came after a brief six-hour respite in the violence overnight, during which no rockets were fired. There were also no reports of IDF airstrikes in that period.

Israeli students walk past a battery of Iron Dome missile defense system, designed to intercept and destroy incoming short-range rockets and artillery shells, in the southern Israeli city of Ashdod, neighbouring the Palestinian Gaza Strip, on November 12, 2019. (Photo by JACK GUEZ / AFP)

Israel’s targeted killing before dawn Tuesday of Islamic Jihad (PIJ) terror chief Baha Abu al-Ata was met by over 220 rockets launched throughout Tuesday and Wednesday morning by terror groups in Gaza, the military said.

The Israel Defense Forces launched its campaign of retaliatory airstrikes — mostly against rocket-launching squads — after approximately six hours of unanswered rocket attacks on central and southern Israel from the enclave on Tuesday morning.

The renewed violence came as Islamic Jihad vowed to avenge the killing Abu al-Ata. Senior Islamic Jihad officials said the “real response” to Abu al-Ata’s elimination has yet to come.

“The coming hours will speak for themselves,” Islamic Jihad spokesman Musab al-Breim told the Islamic Jihad-linked Palestine Today news site.

There was no statement from either side on a ceasefire, though Egyptian and UN officials on Tuesday night said were pushing for a truce between Israel and Gaza terrorist groups.

Egyptian officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said Cairo was attempting to deescalate tensions between Israel and the terror groups. The officials added that the Egyptian General Intelligence Service stepped up communications and “opened channels” with the US and the European Union.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (R) and Defense Minister Naftali Bennett (2L) mmet with military chiefs in Tel Aviv on November 12 2019 (Haim Tzach/GPO)

In the past year, both the Egyptian General Intelligence Services and UN Special Coordinator to the Middle East Peace Process Nickolay Mladenov have been involved in brokering unofficial ceasefires between Israel and the terror groups.

Despite the quiet night, schools in southern Israel will remain closed Wednesday.

In light of the security situation, the municipality of the Gaza-adjacent city of Sderot, one of the most frequent targets of the terror groups, said educational institutions would not operate Wednesday for the second consecutive day.

It was joined by similar announcements by the municipalities of the larger southern cities of Ashkelon, Ashdod, Beersheba and Yavne, as well as the central cities Bnei Brak, Ramat Gan, Rishon Lezion, Rehovot, Givatayim and Modiin.

But the Home Front Command said late Tuesday night there were no security restrictions preventing schools and businesses in the Tel Aviv metropolitan area and Shfela region from operating normally.



An Israeli missile is launched from the Iron Dome defense missile system, designed to intercept and destroy incoming short-range rockets and artillery shells, in the southern Israeli town of Netivot on November 12, 2019.(MENAHEM KAHANA / AFP)

In accordance with Home Front Command orders, gatherings of more than 100 people will only be allowed in closed locations in areas close to Gaza, including the Gaza envelope region and the Lachish, Western Negev, Central Negev and Shfela regions. In the Tel Aviv metropolis, that order will be relevant to gatherings of more than 300 people.

Studies in Gaza will also not be held.

Ziyad al-Thabet, deputy minister of the Hamas-run education ministry, told the Hamas-linked al-Rai news site that it was decided that educational institutions in the Palestinian enclave would be closed Wednesday.

The high-level security cabinet convened Tuesday evening to discuss the situation and Israel’s further actions. They were to meet again Wednesday morning.

On Tuesday morning, the IDF Home Front Command ordered all schools and non-essential businesses closed in the following areas: the Gaza periphery; the Lachish region; the western Negev; the central Negev; and the Shfela region.

Tel Aviv’s usually crowded Habima Square, which sits above the city’s largest bomb shelter, is empty on the afternoon of November 12, 2019. (Melanie Lidman/Times of Israel)

Schools were also closed in the Dan region, including Tel Aviv, and in the Yarkon region. Businesses were temporarily ordered shut there as well, but were allowed to reopen on Tuesday morning, providing there was a bomb shelter nearby, the military said.

It was the first time that the IDF ordered a closure of both schools and businesses in the Tel Aviv metropolitan area since 1990 in the First Gulf War. Over a million Israeli students did not attend classes.

Ben Gurion Airport operated as usual.

In the predawn hours of Tuesday morning, Israeli Air Force jets fired precision ammunition at a building in the Shejaiya area of Gaza City where Abu al-Ata was located, killing him and his wife, in a joint operation by the IDF and Shin Bet security service.

According to the IDF, Abu al-Ata was the true “senior commander” of the Islamic Jihad in the Gaza Strip, having ordered the group to carry out most of the significant rocket and border attacks from the Palestinian enclave in recent months and planning to carry out more.

Shortly after Abu al-Ata’s assassination, the PIJ began launching dozens of short- and long-range rockets, firing the majority of them at the Israeli communities around Gaza and a smaller number at major cities in central Israel throughout the morning.

Dozens of the incoming projectiles were shot down by soldiers operating the Iron Dome missile defense system, representing a 90% interception rate for rockets heading toward populated areas, the army said.

The remaining 10% of projectiles struck homes, businesses and roadways, causing significant damage, but relatively few injuries.

These sites — specifically the underground ones — are seen as critical facilities for PIJ, which the terror group has invested large sums of money to construct.

Israeli firefighter trucks douse a burning factory in the southern Israeli town of Sderot, after it was hit with rockets fired from the Gaza Strip on November 12, 2019. (Ahmad GHARABLI / AFP)

One man was lightly injured by a rocket attack that struck a highway near the town of Gan Yavne, and an eight-year-old girl was in serious condition after she collapsed suddenly, apparently from a heart attack, while hiding in a bomb shelter during a rocket attack on the city of Holon. In addition, several people were hospitalized with light injuries that occurred as they ran to bomb shelters.

In response, the military said its fighter jets, helicopters and other aircraft targeted Palestinian Islamic Jihad “training compounds, including one used by PIJ’s naval commando unit, the shaft of an offensive terror tunnel in the northern Gaza Strip and a tunnel digging site in the central Gaza Strip,” as well as several underground facilities used to manufacture and store weapons, observation posts and training camps in three rounds of airstrikes.

In total, 12 Palestinians were killed in Israeli strikes on Tuesday and Wednesday, including Abu al-Ata and his wife, and some 50 were injured, according to the Hamas-run Gaza health ministry.

Hospitals and other emergency services were put on high alert in light of the ongoing rocket attacks.

Israel and Gaza have engaged in several sporadic rounds of violence over the last two years as the sides attempted to reach a long-term ceasefire.

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