Escalation on Gaza Border |

Two Rockets Strike South Israel, Hours After IAF's First Strike on Gaza Since November Truce

Israel Air Force planes attack Beit Lahiya in response to three mortar shells fired at the western Negev; separately, IDF tanks fired into Syria on Tuesday after troops in north came under mortar shell and gunfire.

Gili Cohen
Gili Cohen
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Gili Cohen
Gili Cohen

Two rockets fired by Palestinian militants in the Gaza Strip on Wednesday exploded in an open area near the southern Israeli town of Sderot, hours after the Israel Air Force launched its first aerial strike on the coastal territory since declaring a truce with Hamas to end Operation Pillar of Defense last November.

IAF planes attacked two targets near the northern Gaza town of Beit Lahiya in response to three mortar shells fired at the western Negev over the course of Tuesday. One of the shells landed in an open area in the Eshkol Regional Council, and two others that landed near the border on the Palestinian side.

The events on Tuesday were the latest in the breaches of understandings that were set following Operation Pillar of Defense, which brought relative peace to the south for the last four months.

Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon said Wednesday morning in response to the fire from Gaza that Israel would not tolerate any attacks on its territory. "We hold Hamas responsible for everything fired from the Gaza Strip into Israel," he said. "We will under no circumstances tolerate a routine trickling in of fire on out citizens or our forces."

In February, a rocket was fired at Ashkelon for the first time since the war, causing no damage or casualties. IDF Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Benny Gantz defined that incident as "severe," but added that in his opinion, the aims of Operation Pillar of Defense had been achieved.

At the beginning of March, a bullet fired from Gaza hit the windscreen of a jeep carrying the commander of the IDF's Northern Gaza Territorial Brigade. There were no casualties during that incident but the vehicle was damaged.

Four rockets were fired into Israel during U.S President Barack Obama's visit two weeks ago. A house in Sderot was damaged under that fire and there were several victims of shock. After the incident, the crossings into Gaza were closed for a week. The crossings have since been opened, but Israel reduced Gaza's fishing zone from six nautical miles to three.

Israel's northern border was also heated on Tuesday, after a mortar shell and gun fire from Syria struck two areas in the Golan Heights where IDF troops were patrolling; IDF tanks fired shells in response to the gunfire.

The incidents on the Syrian border came just hours after Ya'alon toured the area, accompanied by IDF Chief Gantz and GOC Northern Command Yair Golan, for the first time as defense minister. During that tour, Ya'alon declared that while Israel would not intervene in the Syrian crisis, it would respond to any violation of its security interests.

"Across the border a bloody civil war has been taking place for the past two years with tens of thousands dead, but we will not intervene as long as the fighting does not affect our security interests," Ya'alon said. "When it does, whether the sporadic shooting is intentional or not, we will respond, just as we did last week."

Ya'alon was referring to the previous incident on the northern border, when IDF troops fired a retaliatory missile into Syrian territory near the Golan Heights and destroyed a machinegun position, in response to two security incidents in less than 24 hours. At least two Syrian soldiers were wounded from that Israeli fire.

Golan, meanwhile, briefed Ya'alon on IDF protocols involving cross-border fire during their tour, saying that the military only responds when the shooting is continual and after a warning is delivered to UN peacekeeping forces.

Smoke trails of rocket fired by Palestinian militants from Gaza Strip towards Israel (archive photo).Credit: AP
A bomb technician collects the remains of a rocket launched from Gaza Strip falling close to Sderot on April 3, 2013. Credit: AFP

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