Barrage of Gazan Rockets Fired at Southern Israel

February 24, 2020

by: Ilse Strauss

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An IDF tank along the Gaza border (illustrative)

Monday, 24 February 2020 | Hopes to continue the tentative calm that marked the Israel–Gaza border over the last week were shattered late yesterday afternoon when Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ)—the second largest terror group in the coastal enclave—began firing waves of rockets on southern Israel.

The first air raid siren screamed shortly after 5 p.m. Sunday—the time of the attack chosen specifically to coincide with Israeli civilians making their way home from work and thus not within a 15-second radius of a bomb shelter—and continued sporadically throughout the evening as the Iran-backed Gazan terror group pummeled Israel with multiple barrages.

According to the Times of Israel, the Iron Dome missile defense system intercepted approximately half of the 30 rockets and mortar shells fired, while the rest struck open areas. No injuries were reported.

The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) responded overnight by striking PIJ targets both in Gaza and Syria. Their targets included a PIJ terror squad in the process of firing rockets at Israeli civilians. “Terror targets civilians. Israel targets terror,” the IDF tweeted.

According to the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights war monitor, six Iranian-linked fighters were killed in the Syrian strike, two being members of PIJ. Abu Hamza, a spokesperson for the PIJ military wing, vowed revenge, warning that the strikes “will not pass fleetingly.”

“The fight is not over,” he threatened.

Both Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Naftali Bennett answered the threat with some stern words of their own, warning that the national elections in a week’s time will not stop Israel from embarking on a major operation against terror groups in Gaza to bring the rain of rockets and attacks on southern Israeli communities to a halt.

As Israel and PIJ engaged in a war of words, a tense calm prevailed on the Israel–Gaza border this morning. The brief lull in PIJ rocket fire was, however, shattered by a resumption of the bombardment shortly after 12 p.m.

Amid concerns of continued fighting, the IDF had prepared southern Israel for the onslaught of renewed rocket fire today by closing roads, train lines and tourist sites and opening public bomb shelters. Schools in the area have been closed, and an estimated 55,000 students will remain home today. Moreover, the military warned residents on the Gaza periphery to refrain from going to work unless they are in close proximity to a bomb shelter at all times.

The precautionary measures paid off. One of the rockets fired from Gaza scored a direct hit on a playground that is usually teeming with children. Chilling pictures of the empty playground show the wreckage of what appears to be a tree house and a slide marred with shrapnel scars from the impact.

Yesterday’s escalation is the result of a chain of events that started earlier in the day. Following five weeks of intensifying rocket and explosive balloon attacks from Gaza on Israel, the Jewish state and Hamas—the terror group ruling the coastal enclave—last week agreed to instate an agreement of “tentative calm” where Hamas would desist from violence in exchange for Israel lifting various restrictions.

PIJ chose to snub the agreement. Yesterday morning the IDF shot and killed a PIJ terrorist as he planted an explosive device along the security fence between Israel and Gaza. The IDF explained on Twitter that this was “the third time these Islamic Jihad terrorists in #Gaza attempted to plant explosives along Israel’s security fence. We ensured this was their last.” The military then dispatched a bulldozer to retrieve the body of the would-be bomber.

The collection of the body appears to be in line with a possible new policy by Israel to retain the bodies of terrorists to use as bargaining chips in exchange for the bodies of two slain IDF soldiers held by Hamas since Operation Protective Edge in 2014.

Shortly after the rockets began flying last night, PIJ released a statement on their website, hailing the attack as retaliation for the killing of its fighter. The statement did, however, remain conveniently mum on what the terrorist was attempting to do when he met his demise. While terror groups such as PIJ usually vow—and often execute—reprisal attacks to avenge their felled fighters, Israel retaining the terrorist’s body likely fanned the flames of rage, spurring an exaggerated reaction.

At the time of publication, sporadic rocket fire on southern Israel continues. The Iron Dome has intercepted 12 of today’s 14 projectiles. The IDF has resumed retaliation strikes on PIJ targets in Gaza. Only time will tell how long the umpteenth round of back-and-forth fighting between Israel and the terror groups in the coastal enclave will last.

Posted on February 24, 2020

Source: (Bridges for Peace, February 24, 2020)

Photo Credit: Israel Defense Forces/wikimedia.org

Photo License: wikimedia.org