The attacks from the Gaza Strip escalated on Wednesday with 10 rockets and mortar shells fired into Israel – including two containing phosphorus – as defense officials predicted that the violence would quiet down after Succot.
The violence peaked as Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu met in Jerusalem with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas for the first time since the launch of the new round of peace talks in Washington two weeks ago.RELATED:
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Rockets and shells pounded the Eshkol region throughout the day. One of the rockets – a 122-mm. Katyusha – hit just north of Ashkelon. No injuries or damage were reported.
Gazan rocket attacks have been increasing since before Rosh Hashana, understood by the IDF to be part of a Hamas attempt to torpedo the peace talks with the PA.
The assessment within Military Intelligence is that the wave of increased terror will continue until the Jewish holiday season finishes at the end of the month.
The IDF does not attribute too much significance to the use of phosphorus mortar shells, which have been fired into Israel in the past, most recently during Operation Cast Lead in January 2009. The assumption in the IDF Southern Command is that the group that fired the mortars did not know that they contained phosphorus. These shells carry less explosive material than standard mortars, but are highly flammable.
In response to the attacks, the air force – working on intelligence provided by the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) – bombed a tunnel in southern Gaza that the IDF said was to be used by Hamas to infiltrate terrorists into Israel. One Palestinian was reported killed and another four wounded.
Hamas is not believed to be carrying out the attacks directly, but rather allowing proxies that it supports and are affiliated with global jihad elements to fire the rockets and mortars. Hamas has restrained them from carrying out larger attacks.
Haim Yalin, head of the Eshkol Regional Council, reacted sharply to the news of the phosphorus mortar attacks. Yalin said that he would send a letter on Thursday to the United Nations to alert it to the weapons being directed from Gaza against civilians.
“These weapons have been banned by the Geneva Convention. They cause burns among victims, and they kill. This is an agricultural area – and we are now having to explain to farmers how to deal with burns from phosphorus shells,” he said.
Yalin added that firefighters and paramedics operating in his area would now have to prepare for more phosphorous attacks.
“We are preparing to go back to the situation we faced before Operation Cast Lead, when we confronted continuous mortar, rocket and sniper attacks,” he said.
“So long as this autonomous Iranian entity in Gaza continues to exist, we will be fired on. We have received only fundamentalism and fire from Gaza,” Yalin said.
“Fifty thousand residents living in this area, thirsty for peace and a normal life, face a Hamas entity unwilling to recognize Israel,” he said. “We are civilians, farmers, students, all being fired on indiscriminately.”
Yalin stressed that most of the people the Eshkol region, who live in kibbutzim and farming villages, traditionally voted for Left and Center parties.
“We want peace with the Palestinians, but unfortunately it is disappearing before our very eyes,” he said.
Southern Police District chief Cmdr. Yochanan Danino said the police was prepared for the increase in terrorism.
“As soon as the diplomatic process began, we made preparations for the
eventuality that extremist elements, especially Hamas, would attempt to
inflame the situation and launch terrorist attacks,” Danino said.
“Unfortunately, our preparations were founded on the correct assumption.
“But I would like to stress that we have a very strong home front made
up of resilient residents and local leaders. They are showing leadership
and responsibility and cooperating fully with us,” he said.