More than 450 rockets were fired on southern and central Israel Nov. 12-14 after the Israel Defense Forces and the Shin Bet security service killed a senior Islamic Jihad leader in Gaza.
Israel has since carried out waves of retaliatory airstrikes in Gaza so far, pounding Islamic Jihad’s storage, weapons manufacturing and training compounds, tunnel sites and other outposts.
The rockets from Gaza began targeting Israeli civilians at about 5 a.m., an hour after what the IDF called a “surgical strike” on senior Islamic Jihad commander Baha Abu al-Ata.
Another senior commander of Islamic Jihad, Rasmi Abu Malhous, was killed in Gaza in another targeted attack by Israel.
A spokesman for Islamic Jihad said the group will continue launching rockets into the Jewish state and is not ready yet to discuss a ceasefire. He said Islamic Jihad will “continue conveying our message to Israel and once we finish, it will be the time to speak about calming things down.”
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Nov. 13 that “this could take time,” and warned Israeli citizens to follow the instructions of the IDF Home Front Command.
“I said yesterday that we are not bent on escalation, but that we would respond to every attack against us, and respond very sharply,” Netanyahu said. “Islamic Jihad would do well to understand this right now, instead of when it will be too late. We are determined to fight to defend our country and if they think that these barrages or these strikes will weaken us or lessen our determination, they are mistaken.”
Abu al-Ata headed the military council of the Al-Quds Brigade, the military arm of the Islamic Jihad. He commanded the organization’s operations in northern Gaza, but also maintained considerable influence on the southern front.
The IDF said in a statement that Abu al-Ata, 42, was a “ticking time bomb” with plans to carry out rocket attacks and other terrorist activities against Israel “in the coming days,” and also was directly responsible for several cases of rocket fire from Gaza on southern Israel over the past six months.
The statement said the IDF attacked only the room in the building in Gaza City’s Shajaiyah district in which Abu al-Ata was sleeping, which caused “incidental damage.” Abu-al-Ata’s wife, Asma Abu al-Ata, 39, was reported to also have been killed in the attack. The house was known to be the home of Abu al-Ata, who in recent months had gone into hiding because of fears of Israeli assassination attempts.
Seven others, including children, were injured in the attack, according to Palestinian Ministry of Health officials. In the aftermath of the attack, a large crowd of people carried the bodies of Abu al-Ata and his wife through the streets of Gaza, calling for revenge.
“We had an opportunity and we took advantage of it,” IDF spokesman Brig.-Gen. Hedi Silberman said in the statement. He said the IDF was not adopting a renewed policy of “targeted killings.”
Seventeen Israelis have been lightly wounded in rocket attacks across the south, according to the Barzilai Medical Center in Ashkelon, Baltimore’s sister city in Israel since 2003. Medics said an eight-year-old girl was also in a serious condition after collapsing as her family rushed toward a bomb shelter when an air raid siren sounded in the central Israeli city of Holon.
By mid-afternoon, incoming rocket sirens sounded in Ashkelon and its surrounding towns. There were no immediate reports of injuries or damage. Israel’s Channel 12 reported that two rockets were launched and both were intercepted by the Iron Dome aerial missile defense system.
One of the rockets fired from Gaza hit an intersection near the town of Gan Yanve, located adjacent to Ashdod and south of the Tel Aviv metropolitan area, narrowly missing driving Israeli vehicles.
Meanwhile, Syria’s state-run SANA news agency reported that another Israeli air strike this morning killed at least two people in Damascus’ Mezzah district, including the son Muath and granddaughter Batoul of Islamic Jihad political leader Akram al-Ajouri. Al-Ajouri survived the attack unharmed.
The IDF did not respond to media inquiries about the airstrike. In general, the IDF does not comment on such attacks.
According to the Associated Press, the attack destroyed a three-story building located 50 yards from the Lebanese Embassy. The airstrike took place less than an hour after the Abu al-Ata assassination.
Islamic Jihad receives funding, weaponry, and military and tactical guidance from Iran. It is the second largest militant group in Gaza after Hamas, which controls the coastal enclave.
Both Hamas and Islamic Jihad are designated as terrorist organizations by international bodies. Hamas has not been targeted by Israel in any of the retaliatory strikes.
“Our Palestinian people bid farewell today to a commander and fighter who followed the path of martyred leaders,” Hamas said in a statement on Nov. 12. “We in Hamas affirm that the Zionist enemy will bear responsibility for all the consequences and ramifications of this escalation and dangerous attack.
“The path of fighting and resistance is on the rise and the crime of assassinating the commander Abu Salim will not come to pass without a punishment,” Hamas added, using Abu al-Ata’s nickname.
‘The Right Decision’
Code Red rocket alerts sounded in Israeli communities in southern and central Israel, including Tel Aviv, Holon, Bat Yam and Modiin. The Iron Dome system intercepted at least 60 of the rockets. Several homes sustained direct hits or damage from the rockets, as did a factory and a highway.
Schools from communities on the border with Gaza in the south all the way to Tel Aviv in the country’s center were ordered closed on Tuesday, leaving more than 1 million school children at home. Businesses also were ordered closed on Tuesday morning, though the ban on workers coming to their jobs in Tel Aviv was lifted as long as the business had a bomb shelter nearby.
The IDF waited several hours before carrying out retaliatory attacks on Gaza, though it did strike at least one rocket launcher in northern Gaza on Tuesday morning. One Palestinian man was reported killed in that strike. The retaliatory attacks were aimed at Palestinian Islamic Jihad targets in Gaza, the IDF said.
In a televised address on Nov. 12, Netanyahu said that the strike on Abu al-Ata was approved by Israel’s Security Cabinet 10 days ago, noting that he was planning more and imminent rocket attacks on Israel. The IDF was told to strike when it found an opportunity, he said.
Netanyahu informed Blue and White party head Benny Gantz, a former IDF chief of staff who is working to form a coalition government, of the plans to assassinate Abu al-Ata ahead of the strike.
“The fight against terror is ongoing and requires moments in which difficult decisions must be made,” Gantz said in a statement. “The political echelon and the IDF made the right decision last night for all Israeli citizens and the residents of the South. Blue and White will support all appropriate decisions made for the security of the State and will put the security of all of its residents above politics. Every terrorist who threatens our security should know that he will end up dead.”
A meeting scheduled for Tuesday between Gantz and Avigdor Lieberman, head of the Yisrael Beiteinu Party, on the effort to form a government was postponed due to the day’s events.
Promises of Retribution
In a tweet, Ayman Odeh, an Israeli-Arab Knesset member and head of the Joint List of Arab parties, accused Netanyahu of ordering the strike to improve his political prospects, calling it a “scorched earth” action “in a desperate attempt to remain in office.”
Israel’s President Reuven Rivlin offered his support to the Israeli military, saying in a statement, “I know that [the IDF] and the Israeli government that approved the operation, have Israel’s security, and only that, in their minds. … This is no time for political squabbles, and those who do so bring no credit to themselves. It is the time to stop such statements immediately.”
IDF Chief of Staff Aviv Kohavi said the Israeli military was planning for an escalation in violence from Gaza in the wake of killing of Abu al-Ata.
The Islamic Jihad military wing, the Al-Quds Brigade, said in a statement that its response to the assassination “will have no limits and will be equal to the size of the crime that the criminal enemy perpetrated.”
Avi Berkowitz, President Donald Trump’s special envoy to the Middle East, tweeted his support for Israel and its “fight against terrorism and the terrorist group, Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ). … The Administration strongly condemns the barrage of rockets on Israeli civilians and continues to monitor the situation. It’s clear that the main obstacles holding Gazans back are Hamas and PIJ who put violence ahead of bettering the lives of the people of Gaza.”
In addition, David M. Friedman, U.S. ambassador to Israel, tweeted, “We stand with our friend & ally Israel at this critical moment & support Israel’s right to defend itself & bring an end to these barbaric attacks.”
Former Vice President and current presidential candidate Joe Biden tweeted, ” Israel has a right to defend itself against terrorist threats. It is intolerable that Israeli civilians live their lives under the constant fear of rocket attacks. That’s why our administration was such a strong supporter of Israel’s life-saving Iron Dome.”
The European Union issued a statement condemning the rocket attacks on civilians. “The firing of rockets on civilian populations is totally unacceptable and must immediately stop. A rapid and complete de-escalation is now necessary to safeguard the lives and security of Palestinian and Israeli civilians,” the statement said.
Jordan’s foreign ministry condemned the Israeli airstrike in Gaza. Jordanian foreign ministry spokesman Daifallah al-Fayez said the fighting “will only increase tension and violence, deepen the environment of despair and promote extremist agendas in the region.”
He called for Israel and the Palestinians to return to the negotiating table.
Meanwhile, Egypt’s general intelligence agency is reportedly attempting to deescalate tensions between Israeli and Palestinian militants in Gaza, and has “opened channels” with the United States and the European Union. Egypt often acts as a mediator between Israel and Gaza militants, and brokered a cease-fire deal last May.
In a statement issued Nov. 12, Debra S. Weinberg, chair of the board of The Associated: Jewish Federation of Baltimore, and Marc B. Terrill, the organization’s president, said, “Our hearts are heavy with news of rocket fire from Gaza. We pray for a swift resolution to this dangerous situation and safety for all.”
Marcy Oster writes for the JTA global news source. Jmore staff contributed to this report.
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