Seven Wounded After Gaza Rocket Hits House in Central Israel

Thousands of reservists to be called up ■ Army says rocket was fired from Hamas position ■ Netanyahu cuts short Washington visit, vows forceful response

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House struck by Gaza rocket in Mishmeret on March 25, 2019.
House struck by Gaza rocket in Mishmeret on March 25, 2019. Credit: Meged Gozani

More Israel-Hamas live updates here: 2nd day, 3rd day

Seven people were wounded Monday in the early morning after a house in central Israel was hit by a rocket fired from the Gaza Strip, prompting Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to cut short his visit to Washington and return to Israel.

Haaretz Weekly Episode 20Credit: Haaretz

The Israel Defense Forces said that the rocket, which struck a home in the community of Mishmeret, was fired from a Hamas position in the area of Rafah in the southern Strip, some 120 kilometers from where it hit. The IDF said the rocket was manufactured by the group.

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The military has sent two brigades to southern Israel and is preparing to call up thousands of reservists, including some from the Air Defense Command, the Intelligence Corps and the Home Front Command.

Israel has also closed the Erez and Kerem Shalom border crossings into the Gaza Strip.

Members of certain reserves units were alerted that they may be called up for unscheduled duty. The military has not issued the usual formal orders for an immediate call-up, but is instead telling reservists to prepare for a call to duty in the event of a significant escalation. This is the first time in years that the IDF is taking such a step.

House struck in central Israel struck by rocket on March 25, 2019. Credit: Meged Gozani

The notice was sent to reservists in the standing army – which, based on precedent, may indicate that Israel is gearing up for a ground incursion into Gaza.

Nickolay Mladenov, the UN special coordinator for the Middle East process, said the UN is "working intensely with Egypt and all sides" to reduce tensions.

A senior Hamas official told Haaretz that the fact that no group has claimed the attack was a sign that it was the result of a mistake or an impulsive decision by an individual within one of the groups in Gaza. He futher said that if the Israeli response results only in material damages and no loss of life, the groups in Gaza will react with restraint, but that there was concern over a potential snowball effect.

Islamic Jihad issued a response in which they warned the "Zionist enemy against attacking the Strip," and said that they would "respond with force" to any attack. A statement on behalf of the different groups in Gaza said that if Israel strikes the Strip, "all Israeli targets will be in the range of fire."

Following the attack, Netanyahu decided to cut short his trip to the U.S. and return home after his meeting with President Donald Trump. He said that Israel "will respond forcefully" to the rocket fire and that he was returning "to manage our operations up close." He met yet deliver the speech he was meant to deliver at AIPAC over satellite from Israel.

Due to the change in scheduling, the prime minister will not be delivering his planned speech at the American Israel Public Affairs Committee Policy Conference.

The rocket attack left a 60-year-old woman in moderate condition, with her husband sustaining light wounds; a man and woman, both 30, were lightly wounded along with their 3-year-old and 6-month-old; and a 12-year-old neighbor was also lightly wounded. The 12-year-old, 6-month-old and 30-year-old woman remain hospitalized, while the others have been released.

The army confirmed that the Iron Dome defense system had not been activated because rocket fire toward the center of the country was not expected.

Sources in Hamas said Yahya Sinwar, the group's leader in Gaza, had canceled a planned press briefing and that senior figures in the organization had gone into hiding in anticipation of an Israeli response. No Palestinian organization in Gaza has claimed responsibility for the rocket fire, which occurred a day after Hamas prisoners in Israel stabbed two guards, with 12 prisoners being wounded in ensuing clashes.

According to Adnan Abu Ame, a Palestinian political analyst, the rocket fire was meant to send a message that the prisoners are not alone. The secondary message, he said, was that Gaza is ready to expand its targets beyond the area surrounding the Strip.

Sirens sounded in the Hasharon and Emek Hefer regions north of Tel Aviv at 5:22 A.M., moments ahead of the rocket impacting. Residents say they were woken up by the explosion. "I spoke to several people who were awoken by the boom and not the siren... we didn't have enough time to go into the bomb shelters,” one said.

A police spokesman said the rocket was "strong enough to damage the house that was hit directly, as well as other houses in the area."

Local and regional councils said schools would operate as normal.

Netanyahu's main political rival in the April 9 election, Benny Gantz, took to Twitter to blast the prime minister for failing to provide security for Israelis and said he didn't respond "aggressively and forcefully" enough to previous rocket fire from Gaza.

"He who doesn’t respond to attacks, pays protection money to Hamas, dismisses attacks on residents of the south and takes an attack on Tel Aviv lightly now gets rockets in the center of the country," Gantz wrote.

The Hayamin Hehadash party, headed by Education Minister Naftali Bennett, said after the attack that Netanyahu had failed against Hamas.

"Releasing prisoners, the fear of destroying terrorists' homes, showing restraint in the face of rockets fired at the south – all of this has caused Hamas to stop fearing Israel," a party statement said.

A week and a half ago, the Israeli army attacked some 100 targets in Gaza in response to two rockets fired at Tel Aviv from the Strip the evening before, a first since the 2014 Gaza war.

The military said those rockets were launched accidentally. According to assessments, militants fired two M-75 Fajr missiles while carrying out maintenance work, as representatives of the Palestinians factions in Gaza met with Egyptian mediators.

On Sunday, IDF tanks shelled Hamas military posts in Gaza after explosive devices were thrown and incendiary balloons were launched across the border throughout the evening, the military said.

The day before, the Israeli Air Force struck two Hamas outposts in the southern Gaza Strip after several charges were hurled over the border fence, the IDF Spokesperson's Unit said.

The Gaza Health Ministry said four people were wounded, one of them critically, in clashes with Israeli forces along the border on Saturday.

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