Israeli Army Struck Hamas Targets Overnight After Two Gaza Rockets Launched

Iron Dome anti-missile system fails to intercept rockets, which fall in open areas ■ Rockets were accidentally launched due to lightning, Hamas source claims

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This picture taken from Gaza City shows lightning flashing over buildings as the flair of a rocket launched is seen nearby during a thunderstorm in Gaza city on November 15, 2020.
This picture taken from Gaza City shows lightning flashing over buildings as the flair of a rocket launched is seen nearby during a thunderstorm in Gaza city on November 15, 2020. Credit: MOHAMMED ABED - AFP

Two rockets were launched from the Gaza Strip at Israel overnight between Saturday and Sunday, aimed at the southern city of Ashdod and the central city of Rishon Letzion, said the Israeli army.

The army activated the Iron Dome missile defense system but failed to intercept the rockets, which fell in open areas.

The military struck Hamas targets inside the Strip in retaliation, hitting an underground facility and military positions, an army statement said.

Defense Minister Benny Gantz said on Sunday that Hamas bore responsibility for the rocket fire, adding that "we are working in a number of ways, both operational and otherwise, in order to bring about long-term quiet."

Gantz warned if Hamas fails to ensure calm, "the consequences will be severe, first for its leadership and for the residents of the Strip. Our response to the violation of sovereignty, beyond what we have done, will come in a time, place, and manner that will serve our long-term needs, those of the citizens of Israel and the State of Israel, in the country's south."

One of the rockets did not trigger sirens while the other caused them to sound in Ashdod and the coastal region in south-central Israel. Bat Yam Mayor Zvika Brot said that a fragments from an Iron Dome interception missile fell in the area of the Tel Aviv suburb, adding that the rocket fire was not aimed at the city, but that the system was activated in the area.

A source in Hamas claimed the rockets were launched due to a malfunction caused by lightning, and that there was no intention to escalate violence between the two sides.

An investigation by the Israeli army determined that the rockets did indeed belong to Hamas and originated in a launching pit used for medium to long-distance rockets directed at Israel's central region. Experts have discounted the possibility that the launch was caused by lightning as highly improbable. However, the army is still investigating whether the launch was accidental.

Meanwhile, a delegation of Hamas officials set out for Cairo Sunday for talks with Egyptian intelligence officials, according to reports in Gaza. The delegation includes senior Hamas officials Khalil al-Hayya, Saleh al-Arouri and Husam Badran.

A Hamas official told Haaretz that the delegation in Cairo likely set out to calm tensions, noting that the leadership in Gaza does not believe Israel will retaliate for the rocket launches more than it already has.

The Hamas delegation will reportedly also meet with a delegation of Fatah officials from the West Bank, headed by Jibril Rajoub, in order to advance reconciliation talks between the rival Palestinian factions.

On Wednesday, the Israeli military deployed Iron Dome missile defense system batteries in the south due to concerns that Islamic Jihad militants may shoot rockets from Gaza to mark the one-year anniversary of the assassination of the organization’s northern Gaza commander, Baha Abu al-Ata.

The IDF was also preparing for the possibility of longer-range rocket fire, which would reach beyond Israel's south.

Last month, Israel's Iron Dome missile defense system intercepted a rocket launched from Gaza over the skies of the southern city of Ashkelon, the Israeli army said, after sirens sounded off in communities bordering the Strip.

The Israeli air force struck Hamas targets inside the Strip in retaliation, hitting an ammunition factory and underground infrastructure, an army statement said.

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