Palestinian terrorists launched rockets from the Gaza Strip into southern Israel Thursday morning – the second day of US President Barack Obama’s visit – and in response, newly appointed Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon restricted the fishing area to three miles from the Gaza coast and closed a cargo crossing point.

One projectile hit and damaged a home in Sderot. A second fell in an open area of the neighboring Sha’ar Hanegev Regional Council. Initial reports spoke of four rockets, two of which are believed to have landed within the Gaza Strip.

There were no injuries.

Senior security sources said they believed that a small terrorist organization in Gaza was behind the attack, and not Hamas. A Salafi group calling itself Magles Shoura al-Mujahddin said in an Internet statement that it had fired the rockets to show that Israeli air defenses could not stop attacks on the Jewish state during Obama’s visit.

The US president, who was in Jerusalem, about 80 km. from Sderot, when the rockets hit, later told journalists it was up to Hamas, which controls Gaza, to stop such strikes.

“We condemn this violation of the important ceasefire that protects both Israelis and Palestinians, a violation Hamas has a responsibility to prevent,” Obama said on the next stop on his visit, in the West Bank city of Ramallah.

A police bomb squad and emergency officials arrived at the two blast zones to retrieve the projectiles and document the damage. It was the second ceasefire violation by terrorists in two months. On February 26 a rocket from the Gaza Strip struck a road south of Ashkelon, causing damage but no injuries.

The clampdown on coastal fishing that came in response to Thursday’s attack reduced the open zone to three miles from six. It canceled the expansion that had been in place since the end of Operation Pillar of Defense of last year.

The border crossing that was closed was the Kerem Shalom cargo terminal.

The IDF’s Coordination of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT) unit added that the Erez pedestrian terminal at the northern end of the strip had been ordered to reduce its level of operations.

Returning crossings to their normal levels of activity would be conditioned on security assessments, COGAT added.

Residents of the areas hit by Thursday’s rockets said they had been surprised to hear sirens blaring once again after a long period of calm.



“We woke up to the sound of a strange whistle [made by the rockets],” said a man from Sderot.

“We thought the sirens had been a mistake.”

Sderot Mayor David Buskila said the rockets bore a message from Palestinian factions in Gaza, signalling that they would be the ones setting the tone for the region rather than Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas. Later on Thursday, during a dinner at President Shimon Peres’s official residence, Buskila gave Obama a letter on behalf of his constituents urging him to grant clemency to Israeli agent Jonathan Pollard.

The letter, written before the rockets fell, said: “You have seen Sderot during a very difficult time. Please accept our heartfelt request to grant clemency.”

Bayit Yehudi figures also viewed the rockets as being a clear message to Obama.

“I am sure that Obama remembers his personal, emotional visit to Sderot and his words there, that if someone would shoot at the house where his two young daughters were sleeping he would do everything to stop them,” Housing and Construction Minister Uri Ariel stated.

Ariel added that he was sure Obama identified with the local residents and would stand by Israel’s side and respond decisively to the Palestinians “so that this reality will not exist anymore in the Gaza Strip or in Judea and Samaria.”

According to MK Orit Struck, “the rockets that Palestinians from Gaza launched are the best display of public diplomacy possible during the US president’s visit, which clearly shows why Israel cannot withdraw from Judea and Samaria.”

In recent days, the IDF Home Front Command and officials from the Netivot municipality tested a new three-dimensional simulator that enables local authorities to practice their responses to rocket and missile attacks.

Lahav Harkov, Gil Hoffman and Reuters contributed to this report.

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