Tensions between Israelis and Palestinians rose on Wednesday as a result of escalating Palestinian rocket fire from the Gaza Strip into Southern Israel. In response, Israel carried out an airstrike early Wednesday, marking the first exchange of fire between the two sides since the cease-fire in November. Israel’s earlier response to rockets from Gaza had been to place restrictions on Palestinian fishermen off the Gaza Coast.
Early Wednesday morning, two Qassam rockets that exploded near Sderot as Israeli children were making their way to school around 7:30am. The rockets landed in an open area and no damages were reported. In response, an Israeli aircraft carried out warning strikes in Gaza by targeting empty fields. The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) said that warplanes struck two other terror targets as well. Palestinian sources reported no casualties.
Israeli police officers in Sderot inspected the damage caused by a rocket fired from Gaza. (Photo: Al Jazeera)
This followed rocket fire that hit Israel on March 21 during President Barack Obama’s visit. The remains of one of the rockets were not discovered at a kindergarten in Sderot until a school in the area reopened after the Passover holiday. A coalition of Salafist groups in Gaza claimed responsibility for the attacks, but the Government of Israel considers Hamas, which rules the Strip, to be responsible for armed attacks on Israeli villages. Three rockets were fired on April 2; one hit Israeli territory and two fell back into Gaza.
Hamas government spokesman Ihab Ghussein accused Israel of using the airstrikes to “divert attention” from Palestinian prisoners hunger striking in Israeli prisons. Many across Gaza and the West Bank took part in a general strike on Wednesday after the death of Maysara Abu Hamidyeh, a prisoner serving a life sentence for planning a suicide bombing. Israeli officials had petitioned for Abu Hamidyeh’s release on humanitarian grounds, but he died in an Israeli hospital before the petition was heard.
After suffering no rocket attacks in January and one in February, Israel has responded to rocket fire in March and April with a mix of military and non-military actions. Aside from the fishing restrictions, following the attack during President Obama’s visit, Israel closed the Gaza border crossing to commercial goods and permitted access only for humanitarian or medical purposes. The Israeli military said Thursday, however, that the commercial crossing is now open and Palestinians with entry permits can enter into Israel through the civilian crossing. Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon has warned that Israel would continue responding to attacks and would not allow its people “to come under fire in any form.”