Israel on High Alert After More Than 85 Rockets Fired in 24 Hours

Hamas claims responsibility for some of the launches; for the first time in the current fighting, alarms go off in central Israel and Jerusalem.

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Haaretz
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An Israeli police explosives expert holds the remains of a rocket fired from Gaza in Israel's south, July 7, 2014.
An Israeli police explosives expert holds the remains of a rocket fired from Gaza in Israel's south, July 7, 2014.Credit: Reuters
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Haaretz

Palestinians in Gaza fired more than 85 rockets at Israel on Monday, with Hamas openly claiming responsibility for some of the launches for the first time since the current escalation began.

The rockets hit several major cities in the south and, also for the first time in the current fighting, caused alarms to go off in central Israel and Jerusalem. The barrages lightly wounded two Israelis and caused property damage.

Nine Palestinian militants in the Gaza Strip were killed overnight on Sunday, seven from Hamas and two from Islamic Jihad. Hamas said all were killed in Israeli airstrikes, but Israel said at least six died when a smuggling tunnel collapsed.

The Israel Defense Forces called up 1,500 infantry and Border Police reservists in preparation for further escalation, after the security cabinet decided during a three-hour meeting on Monday afternoon to intensify attacks against Hamas and other terrorist groups in the Gaza Strip. A senior official said the ministers want to refrain from a large-scale military operation for now, but they instructed the army to prepare for significant expansion of its current operations.

“The blows will be harder,” one minister said. “Each succeeding day will be harder for Hamas. We will escalate the attacks to make it clear to them that it’s in their interest to stop the rocket fire. We are prepared to broaden the operation if the rocket fire does not stop.”

At about 8:30 P.M. on Monday, not long after the cabinet announced its decision, Palestinians fired a barrage of some 35 rockets at Israel within minutes.

Sirens sounded in the Jerusalem suburbs of Mevasseret Zion, Beit Shemesh and Abu Ghosh, as well as the central Israeli cities of Rehovot, Nes Tziona and Yavneh. But the alerts around Jerusalem proved to be false alarms.

At about the same time, sirens went off in the southern towns of Ashdod, Ashkelon, Kiryat Gat, Kiryat Malakhi, Netivot and Ofakim. Iron Dome batteries intercepted seven rockets above Ashdod and five above Netivot. One person was lightly wounded by shrapnel in Ashdod – the second Israeli casualty of the day, after a rocket strike in the Eshkol Regional Council light wounded a soldier early on Monday morning.

Hamas subsequently claimed responsibility for the rockets fired at Ashdod, Ofakim, Ashkelon and Netivot.

Summer camps, day-care centers and other frameworks for children will open on Tuesday only in buildings with rocket shelters, if they open at all. Classes and exams have been canceled at Ben-Gurion University in Be’er Sheva and Sapir College in Sderot. On Monday, the Israel Scouts evacuated 2,400 campers from a summer camp near Kibbutz Kfar Menachem.

Palestinian officials said Gaza was bracing for further Israeli attacks. They said Hamas had evacuated likely targets and its leaders had gone underground lest Israel attempt to assassinate them.

Hamas also issued a statement last night demanding that the Palestinian Authority take action against Israel, saying “national unity sometimes requires paying a price.”

A wave of airstrikes on the Gaza Strip overnight on Sunday caused Palestinian fatalities for the first time since the current round of fighting began. An IDF spokesperson said the air force struck nine targets, including “concealed rocket launchers and other centers of terrorist activity in the Gaza Strip.” Most of the targets were in Rafah and Beit Hanun.

Hamas’ armed wing announced that six of its members were killed in strikes on Rafah, on the Egyptian border, at a site later identified as a smuggling tunnel. Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri accused Israel of a “grave escalation” in the violence and threatened to retaliate, saying Israel would “pay the price.”

Minutes later, a Grad rocket exploded in open terrain in Be’er Sheva, the second rocket fired at the city in 48 hours. The first was intercepted by the Iron Dome anti-missile system.

While Hamas insisted the tunnel collapsed due to an Israeli airstrike, the IDF later denied this. A senior IDF officer said the tunnel collapsed after explosives went off inside it for reasons yet unknown. Israeli officials said Egypt’s intelligence agency was conveying messages between Israel and Hamas in an effort to calm the situation. But that while the messages from Hamas voiced a desire for calm, they said, the Hamas operatives on the ground were sending the opposite message through their actions.

“There’s an internal dispute between the Hamas’s military wing and its political leadership,” one official said. “[Sunday] it seemed they were heading toward a ceasefire and that things on the ground had calmed down, but today the situation is reversed.”

The air force launched additional airstrikes on Gaza on Monday afternoon, striking three rocket-launching sites.

By late Monday evening, the rocket fire had grown so intense that regional councils near Gaza decided to begin using emergency work procedures only and to raise their alert levels. A hotline was opened in Sha’ar Hanegev to deal with citizens’ needs during the state of emergency.

Soon afterward, the IDF formally instructed residents of the communities nearest Gaza to stay within 15 seconds of shelter. Residents of communities within a 40-kilometer radius of Gaza, including Ashkelon and Be’er Sheva, were told to call off gatherings of more than 500 people in open areas.

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