The security cabinet weighed a Gaza military operation late Wednesday night, after a Palestinian-launched Grad rocket decimated a Beersheba house before dawn, and a second Grad rocket landed in the sea close to the central part of the country.
“If these attacks do not stop – we will stop them,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said.
Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman has been pushing for a military solution to the escalating Gaza violence, while many cabinet members prefer to respond with other stiff sanctions against the Hamas-ruled enclave rather than risk sparking a renewed war. It is also possible they could green-light a limited air operation.
Military opinions are also split. The defense establishment does not seek an escalation in the conflict between Israel and Hamas, according to remarks made by Police Commissioner Roni Alsheich during a speech he delivered at Bar-Ilan University.“The security establishment does not see any motivation to create an escalation in the Gaza Strip, the events there are complex enough, the complexity of players there is big enough that we’ll have a few events like we had last night,” he said.
IDF Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Gadi Eisenkot cut short his US trip, returning to Israel to attend the security cabinet. Meanwhile, Liberman shut down Gaza’s pedestrian crossing at Erez, its commercial crossing at Kerem Shalom and limited fishing space in the Gaza Strip to only three nautical miles.
Netanyahu and Liberman traveled down south to hold security assessments at the IDF’s Gaza Division. They spoke with Deputy IDF Chief of Staff Maj.-Gen. Aviv Kochavi, National Security Council Director Meir Ben-Shabbat, ISA Director Nadav Argaman and senior security establishment officials.
“Israel views with utmost gravity the attacks against it on the [southern border] fence, on the area adjacent to the Gaza Strip, in Beersheba – everywhere,” Netanyahu said after the meeting.“I want to tell you today,” he said, that “Israel will take very strong action.”
Prior to the cabinet meeting the IDF released a short video statement from Southern Command Maj.-Gen. Herzl Halevi who said “the IDF is prepared and is preparing itself for future scenarios. We will know how to respond more forcibly.”
The attacks occurred as Egypt was in the midst of a renewed attempt to broker an understanding to restore calm. It had sent a delegation to Gaza on Tuesday, but after the rocket attacks it postponed a visit there by its intelligence chief, Abbas Kamel.
UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process Nickolay Mladenov met with President Reuven Rivlin to discuss the Gaza situation. He has spent months working on a long term cease-fire.“We need to make sure that in the next 48 hours we really see a de-escalation on the ground so that these efforts can continue in the interests of peace between Israelis and Palestinians and in the interests of peace in the entire region. I am afraid that there is no more time for words. Now is the time for actions,” Mladenov said.
He is also expected to speak about Gaza when he addresses the UN Security Council in New York on Thursday during its monthly meeting on the Middle East.
Early in the morning, the Israel Air Force struck 20 Hamas terror targets across the Gaza Strip, including a terror tunnel. IDF Spokesperson Brig.-Gen. Ronen Manelis blamed Hamas for the attack. Hamas “creates an atmosphere of terror in the demonstrations near the border fence, where grenades have been thrown in recent weeks,” Manelis said.
Hamas and Islamic Jihad have earlier denied responsibility
for the rocket fire. “We reject any irresponsible attempt to destroy the Egyptian efforts,” to reach a cease-fire agreement with Israel, the joint statement said, “including the rocket fire last night.”
However, Manelis dismissed the groups’ claim. “Only Hamas and Islamic Jihad have these type of rockets,” he said.
Shortly before 4 a.m. rocket sirens rang Gaza border communities on Wednesday, including in Beersheba where the rocket tore through the roof of a home. Magen David Adom rescue services stated that emergency personnel treated and evacuated nine civilians, including a 50-year-old woman and a 40-year-old man in mild condition after they fell while running to shelter as well as a 20-year-old woman who suffered from shock.
“We were told about a woman who was in a nearby house who was hit in the head while running to a protected area. We ran there and saw a 50-year-old woman in full consciousness with a slight head injury. We gave her first aid and evacuated her to the hospital for further tests,” Magen David Adom Spokesperson’s Unit said.
Among the residents of the home that was hit were 39-year-old woman Miri Tamano and her three children aged nine, ten and twelve, along with two neighbors who were also treated for shock and were released from the hospital late Wednesday morning. Police forces who were first to reach the scene said smoke was still visible over the home and described it as “a scene of total destruction.”
Unconfirmed reports stated that the second rocket landed in the sea near the central Israeli city of Bat Yam south of Tel Aviv and did not cause any damage.
The military is investigating why the Iron Dome missile defense system was not activated. Manelis responded in his statement that “in any case, Iron Dome is not deployed in every place.” Due to the tensions, the Home Front Command announced that farming in the fields in the south was to be allowed on a case-by-case basis and all educational activities must take place in secure locations. Schools were also closed in the Gaza border region and surrounding communities.
After the Israeli retaliatory air strikes against Gaza, Palestinian health officials said a 25-year-old Palestinian man, identified by Al-Mujahideen Brigades, a small militant faction, as one of its members, was killed. Five other Palestinians were wounded in separate attacks.
Many people in Gaza awoke to the sounds of explosions. Families crowded into a nearby hospital where the dead man’s mother collapsed over his body. Pillars of smoke rose from the sites bombed by Israel, including a port Hamas is constructing in the southern Gaza Strip as well as a naval police position.
The last rocket to hit Beersheba occurred in early August, when a long-range rocket flew some 40 km. from the Gaza Strip and landed in an open area outside the city. While it caused no damage or injuries it marked a significant increase in the level of violence from the coastal enclave, which until then directed their fire towards communities along the Gaza border.Tamara Zieve and Reuters contributed to this report.
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