Multiple mortar shells were fired from the Gaza Strip towards southern Israel on Wednesday afternoon, causing no damage or injuries.The first mortar fell inside Israel’s Eshkol Regional Council close to the Gaza border fence at around 2 p.m. and a second was launched around an hour and a half later. The first two rockets did not activate the rocket alert siren since they were heading towards open territory but sirens sounded around 5 p.m. when a third mortar also landed in the Eshkol region.It was the third rocket to strike Israeli territory in under a week, and according to the IDF, after finding no shrapnel from the first two launches it is suspected that they fell within the Hamas-run enclave.
Mixed reports emerged of a fourth rocket having been launched from Gaza Wednesday evening and which fell into an open area, however the IDF claimed no knowledge of such reports.Gadi Yarkoni, head of the Eshkol regional council said in a statement that residents were prepared for rocket fire following the discovery of a Palestinian Islamic Jihad tunnel, the construction of the IDF’s underground barrier and US President Donald Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.Neverthless he said, residents "will not allow sirens to be the routine of [their] daily lives,” and that they count on “the IDF and politicians to act with discretion and in a manner that will restore deterrence that will not lead to unnecessary escalation in the region,” Yarkoni added.Some 20 projectiles have been launched towards southern Israel since US President Donald Trump recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital three weeks ago. Several have been intercepted including one over the city of Ashkelon, some 20 kilometers from Gaza, and a number have slammed into Israeli territory. The escalation comes after years of relative quiet along the strip, prompting many leaders to call for harsher retaliation against the Hamas-held enclave, something IDF Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Gadi Eisenkot called “irresponsible.”Earlier on Monday the IDF announced it had completed its investigation into the mortar fire from the Hamas-run enclave towards southern Israel last Friday, determining that they were likely launched by Palestinian Islamic Jihad.In addition, the timing of the launches were calculated to coincide with a ceremony held in Kfar Aza marking the 24th birthday of missing IDF soldier Sgt. Oron Shaul who was killed in 2014 during Operation Protective Edge during the battle of Shujaiyya. His remains have been held by Hamas ever since. The remains of Lt. Hadar Goldin, also killed during Operation Protective Edge, are also being held by the terrorist organization. One of the rockets struck a building in the Sha’ar HaNegev Regional Council causing damage but no injuries. The Iron Dome missile defense system intercepted the two others. The IDF quickly retaliated with fighter jets and tank fire, striking two Hamas targets in the northern Gaza Strip and struck an additional Hamas outpost in the southern Gaza Strip the following evening. Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman told Channel 2 news on Saturday night that the mortars had come from Iran and had been supplied to different groups in the Hamas-run Gaza Strip.A statement by the IDF's Spokesperson's Office says the fire on Friday “proved once again that Iran, through rogue and extremist terrorist organizations, is acting to bring about a deterioration in the regional situation.Iran, the statement continued, “is playing with the lives of the Gazan residents that could lead the strip to an escalation after years of quiet on the security front.” Nonetheless Hamas is “fully responsible for the situation and its implications.”According to the investigation, the mortars fired towards Kfar Aza were identical in their characteristics to the 12 mortars fired on November 30 by Islamic Jihad towards an IDF outpost in the northern Gaza Strip. The barrage, which caused no casualties, is believed to have been the response to Israel destroying a PIJ cross-border attack tunnel in September, killing 14 terrorists. The group said that the tunnel, which had been detected using newly implemented advanced technology and destroyed in a controlled explosion inside Israeli territory, had been under construction “for years” and had vowed to revenge those who had been killed.Israeli officials have accused Iran of growing involvement in the Hamas-run enclave and according to Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Gadi Eisenkot, Iran has increased its support for Hamas and Islamic Jihad in the last few months to $100 million in order to have more influence in the enclave. Tehran had frozen its financial support to Hamas in 2012 after the group refused to support the Assad regime in Syria and in September was reported to be financing Hamas by some $60-70 million. In November the commander of the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC) Quds Force Maj.-Gen. Qassem Soleimani spoke on the phone with the commanders of Palestinian Islamic Jihad and the Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades -the armed wing of Hamas, telling them that Iran and other “resistance forces” in the region were ready to support Palestinians and Jerusalem.
Gaza border brief with Seth J. Frantzman