Rocket sirens sound in southern Israel after terrorist killed earlier

Near East

23 February 2020, 18:26

Photo: Reuters

Incoming rocket sirens were activated in southern Israel on Sunday night as about 20 rockets were fired from the Gaza Strip after an IDF bulldozer prevented Palestinians from retrieving the body of a suspected terrorist who was killed while reportedly placing an improvised explosive device near the border fence with the Gaza Strip on Sunday morning.

The sirens were heard in the Ashkelon and Hof Ashkelon area and the towns of Sufa, Kisufim, Zikim, Karmia, Gabim, Sderot, Nir Am, Ibim, Miflasim, Mavki’im, Nir Yitzhak, Netiv HaAsarah, Erez, Bat Hadar and Kerem Shalom in southern Israel.

Ashkelon ordered the opening of shelters in the city and all public activities were cancelled after the rocket fire. The Eshkol Regional Council reported that multiple rockets fell near towns in the area, but no damage or injuries were reported.

Earlier on Sunday afternoon the IDF was reported to have increased the number of Iron Dome missile defense batteries over fears the Palestinian terror groups in the Hamas-run enclave would fire rockets in retaliation for the death of the man.

The IDF is increasing the number of Iron Dome missile defense batteries after an IDF bulldozer prevented Palestinians from retrieving the body of a suspected terrorist who was killed while reportedly placing an improvised explosive device near the border fence with the Gaza Strip on Sunday morning.

Video from the scene uploaded to social media on Sunday morning showed a crowd of Palestinian youth throwing stones towards an Israeli bulldozer sent to retrieve the body of the dead suspect.

He was identified as 27 year-old Muhammed Ali al-Na’im, a commander of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad’s military wing, the Al-Quds Brigade, in the Khan Younis area.

The graphic footage showed the bulldozer driving at high speed toward a group of Palestinian youth to prevent them from taking the body. Several people were seen carrying one individual, but the bulldozer was seen lifting the body of the deceased suspect from the ground before it returned to Israel along with an IDF Merkava tank which had been guarding it.

Defense Minister Naftali Bennett called the uproar over retrieval of the terrorist’s body by the IDF bulldozer as “hypocritical criticism of the left,” and supported the IDF’s way to collect the body. 

“I am tired of the  hypocritical criticism of the left against the ‘inhumane’ use by the bulldozer to retrieve the body of a terrorist who tried to murder Israelis. Gentlemen, you are not human. Hamas holds the bodies of Hadar and Oron,” he said, referring to the bodies of two fallen IDF soldiers in the hands of Hamas since Operation Protective Edge in 2014.

“I support the IDF troops that killed the terrorists and retrieved the body. It should be done and will be done. We will work intensely in the face of terrorists.”

The Palestinian Ministry of Health in Gaza was quoted by Maan News Agency as saying that another two men were injured by IDF gunfire while trying to retrieve the body and the wounded individual.

According to the IDF’s Spokesperson’s Unit, two Palestinians were identified approaching the fence and placing an improvised explosive device on it near the southern city of Khan Younis. They were fired upon by troops from the military’s Kfir brigade “who were deployed to the location following the detection” of the suspects.

The Israeli military said the cell affiliated with the PIJ terror group which had placed the explosive device near the border fence on Sunday morning was responsible for two other similar incidents in recent months near the fence.

Palestinian Islamic Jihad called the incident “a brutal crime” and vowed to “not let the occupation deal with us as it does with some Arab states. We are placing our hands on the trigger and we will avenge the blood of the martyrs by firing on Tel Aviv.”

Last week, Defense Minister Naftali Bennett said that Israel would begin to “hoard” the bodies of Palestinian terrorists to use as “bargaining chips” to pressure Hamas to release of the two fallen IDF soldiers and two Israeli citizens held by the terror group in the Gaza Strip.

This is the second time in less than a week that IDF troops have opened fire on Palestinians near Khan Younis. Last week a Palestinian Islamic Jihad sniper cell fired towards troops stationed near the Gaza border. Israeli security forces-both IDF and officer’s from the police’s elite counter-terrorism unit-responded with artillerly fire.

While the IDF said that it had “identified a hit,” there were no Palestinian reports of casualities.

The incidents come as Israel is trying to broker a long-term ceasefire arrangement with the Hamas-run coastal enclave.  

On Saturday evening, former defense minister and Yisrael Beteinu Party chairman Avigdor Liberman revealed that Mossad director Yossi Cohen and the Head of the IDF’s Southern Command Maj.-Gen. Herzi Halevi made a secret visit to Qatar earlier this month.

During the visit, which lasted less than a day, the two met with the Qatari envoy to the Gaza Strip Mohammed al-Emadi and Qatari national security advisor Mohammed Bin Ahmed al-Misnad and reportedly “begged” the Qataris to keep sending money to the blockaded Strip. 

“Both the Egyptians and the Qataris are angry with Hamas, and they were going to cut all ties with them. All of a sudden Netanyahu shows up as a Hamas advocate, pressuring Egypt and the Qataris to continue” Lieberman told Channel 12 news.

Qatar, who is the main financial provider to Gaza, sends millions of dollars to Hamas every month. On Friday Doha said it would be increasing aid to the impoverished Strip and will provide some 120,000 families with $100 dollars by the end of February. Another $24 million will be used to build a new hospital in Rafah in the southern Strip.

Over a dozen rockets and mortars as well as countless explosive balloons and condoms have been fired towards southern Israel, as tension spiked following the release of US President Donald Trump’s Middle East peace plan at the end of January.

In mid-February following the launching of several projectiles into southern Israel, Jerusalem announced it would reduce the Gaza fishing zone from 15 to 10 nautical miles, and reduced the number of work permits from 2,000 to 500 for Gaza businessmen to enter Israel. The restrictions were lifted several days later.

The restrictions were lifted several days later.

Last week Bennett warned that “the lawless conduct of Hamas leadership is bringing us closer to fatal action against them. We will not announce when or where, but no one will be immune.” 

“The State of Israel does not want a war with Hamas in Gaza, but we have a commitment to the security of southern residents,” he said. “Hamas faces the choice: to choose life and economic prosperity or to choose terror and pay an unbearable price.”

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