Rocket fire continues after Islamic Jihad announces unilateral ceasefire
Israeli security official says Jerusalem "skeptical" about PIJ's ceasefire announcement.
By ANNA AHRONHEIM, LAHAV HARKOV
Incoming rocket sirens continued to wail after Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) announced it would stop firing rockets toward Israel on Monday evening.More than 100 rockets were fired by PIJ on Monday during several barrages from the Gaza Strip toward southern Israel in a second day of violence with the Iranian-backed terrorist group.“Al-Quds Brigades [Islamic Jihad’s military wing] announces that it has finished its military response to the assassination crimes in Khan Yunis and Damascus,” PIJ said in a statement. “It promises our people and nation that it will continue its struggle and that it will respond to any continued [aggression] by the occupation against our people and land.”Nevertheless, an Israeli security official said Jerusalem has received “messages from various ranks within the PIJ regarding a desire for an immediate ceasefire,” but Israel was skeptical of the claims and only would believe actions on the ground rather than words.“The IDF will continue to act until quiet is restored to the south,” the official said.Of the 100 rockets fired toward Israel, 90% were intercepted by the Iron Dome missile-defense system, the IDF said.While the majority of rockets struck open fields, some fell in residential communities. One landed near a playground in Sderot, as well as in the yard of a home. In Netivot, rocket shrapnel fell near a house.The IDF carried out retaliatory strikes against PIJ targets across the Gaza Strip throughout Monday, including a military compound in Khan Yunis used for training and to store weapons, as well as underground infrastructure and rocket launchpads used to fire rockets into Israel.Following the PIJ ceasefire announcement, an incoming rocket siren was activated around 8 p.m. in Kissufim after a mortar was fired from Gaza.One wave of rocket fire from Gaza just before 4 p.m. lasted more than 90 minutes. Sirens wailed in Ashkelon, Sderot and Netivot and surrounding communities.The Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT) announced that due to the rocket fire, the Erez crossing with Gaza would be closed, no merchants would be able to cross into Israel, and the fishing zone would be reduced to six nautical miles.Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who was in Ariel with US Ambassador David Friedman, warned that Israel may launch a broader campaign against Hamas in Gaza if rockets are not totally stopped.“Last night, we attacked in Gaza and in Syria,” he said. “I don’t plan to let up... Beyond the hard strikes on our enemies, Hamas and Islamic Jihad need to understand: This won’t continue. If they do not completely stop, we will have to activate the plan we prepared for a broad campaign.”Netanyahu said these are not just words, and the plan goes beyond the past three IDF operations in Gaza. However, he said, war is the final option.“I am not hurrying into war,” Netanyahu said. “I know the price that our soldiers and the families of the fallen pay... Woe to Hamas and Islamic Jihad when that day comes. It’s their choice.”“We will do what it takes to bring back total security for the residents of the South,” he said.Netanyahu visited an Iron Dome battery in Ashdod, where he said: “Yesterday, we attacked on several fronts, in Syria and in Gaza, and we are continuing to strike now, with planes, tanks and helicopters. We will continue to strike until it is quiet again. We have a message to the heads of terrorist organizations: If the quiet doesn’t return, you’re next.”Defense Minister Naftali Bennett met with citizens and council heads in Sderot and the Gaza border communities on Monday.“We are not interested in a broad campaign, but we are preparing a plan, and if there is no choice, we will put it into action,” he said. “We won’t tell the enemy when and where.”UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process Nickolay Mladenov called on Hamas and Islamic Jihad to halt its rocket and mortar fire against Israel, which “only risk dragging Gaza into another round of hostilities with no end in sight.”In a video briefing to the UN Security Council in New York, he said: “The indiscriminate launching of rockets against civilian population centers violates international law and must end.”“The past 48 hours have once again showed us how fragile the situation in Gaza is,” Mladenov said. “Its population suffers under Hamas’s rule and Israeli closures, while militant activity forces Israeli communities to live in constant fear of the next rocket attack. No amount of humanitarian or economic support on its own will resolve either the situation in Gaza or the broader conflict. Gaza ultimately requires a political solution.”“The situation is escalating as we speak,” he said. “The UN team is in contact with Egyptian officials on the ground. We call for a cessation of rocket fire against a civilian population, which violates international law.”UN Ambassador Danny Danon contacted UNSC members ahead of the meeting, telling them that the 50-plus rockets fired into Israel “indicate a clear intention by terrorist organizations in the Gaza Strip to escalate the situation. Israel is acting with determination and resolve to end the threat to its citizens. We will not hesitate to continue our defensive actions.”He called on the international community to condemn the rocket fire from Gaza and to take action against the terrorist organizations shooting at Israel.Al-Quds Brigades warned earlier on Monday that it was “ready to confront any aggression. The enemy should know that if it continues [to carry out aggression], we will respond with force.”Earlier in the day, Netanyahu spoke with Sderot Mayor Alon Davidi and Ashkelon Mayor Tomer Glam, updating them on the security situation. He also held a telephone security consultation with the heads of the security establishment.Shortly before a barrage of rocket fire in the early afternoon, Bennett said that Israel is “preparing a plan to fundamentally change the situation in the Gaza Strip. I really understand the situation of the people of the South. They deserve peace and security.”“We have eliminated at least six terrorists over the last day – not only in Gaza,” Bennett said during a conference in Jerusalem on Monday. “But we have also made progress in hurting the source of the problem. But deterrence is not built in a moment.”The hostilities began on Sunday when the IDF killed a PIJ terrorist who planted an explosive device and prevented Palestinians from retrieving his body. Israel then came under an intense barrage of 26 rockets, 13 of which were intercepted by Iron Dome.On Sunday night, Israel carried out retaliatory airstrikes against PIJ targets in Syria and throughout the Gaza Strip following earlier rocket fire, killing at least six terrorists.Amid fears of violence, IDF Home Front Command announced that roads, schools and the railroad line to Beersheba near the Gaza Strip would be closed.The areas and roads that are blocked are all agricultural access routes west of Route 232. Highway 4 will be closed from Zikim Junction to the intersection of Kibbutz Netiv Haasara in both directions, Route 34 from Yad Mordechai Junction to Kibbutz Nir Am and Route 232 from Kibbutz Mefalsim to Kfar Aza Junction will also be closed.In addition, Kobe Hill in Sderot, Black Arrow Memorial, Bells Hill, Nazeemite Hill and Lone Horseshoe Hill will also be prohibited. Zikim Beach is closed to the public.Israel Railways said trains between Ashkelon and Beersheba would stop operating, and the stations in Sderot, Netivot and Ofakim would be closed.Hamas and PIJ had earlier threatened to avenge the killing of a terrorist by the IDF after he tried to plant explosives along the Gaza border fence early Sunday morning.Graphic footage from the scene showed an armored IDF bulldozer driving at high speed toward a group of Palestinian youth throwing stones to prevent them from retrieving the body. Several people were seen carrying one individual, but the bulldozer was seen lifting the body of the deceased suspect from the ground before it returned to Israel along with an IDF Merkava tank that had been guarding it.The dead terrorist was identified as Muhammed Ali al-Na’im, 27, a Quds Brigade commander in the Khan Yunis area.In response to the ongoing criticism of how the IDF took the body, Bennett on Monday said his goal was not to release terrorists until the bodies of the fallen IDF soldiers are returned to Israel.“I have a goal: to bring the bodies of Hadar Goldin and Oron Shaul home, not by releasing murderers. I sent them both to fight in Protective Edge, and the way to get them back is by increasing the pain for Hamas.”Tovah Lazaroff contributed to this report.