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Sudden Rocket Barrage from Gaza on Greater Tel Aviv

By DEBKAfile, VOA News, IsraelNationalNews.com, YnetNews.com, JTA and the Jerusalem Post The IDF began striking targets in Gaza early Friday morning around 1:30 a.m. in retaliation for two rockets that had been fired at Tel Aviv Thursday night, the IDF spokesperson said. A red alert was heard in the Eshkol Regional Council at around the same time. Reuters reported that Palestinian witnesses said Israeli planes bombed two Hamas security positions in the south and north of the territory. The Israeli military confirmed that it was attacking what it called "terror sites" in Gaza. The earlier barrage from the Gaza Strip on the Greater Tel Aviv region of central Israel occurred on Thursday night, March 14. "No rocket fell in any built-up area," military spokesman Brigadier-General Ronen Manelis told Israel Radio, declining to provide further operational details. The two Fajr rockets were "basically a surprise," Manelis said, adding that Israel had no advance intelligence warnings of the rocket fire. "We don't know who carried it out (but) the Hamas organization is the main organization in the Strip. It is responsible for what happens within the Strip and what emanates from it." Two big explosions rocked the region amid reports of two rockets, one of which was said to have been intercepted by Iron Dome. The IDF spokesman stated after the event that there was no Iron Dome interception of either rocket. The second rocket may have dropped on the open ground in the Ramat Gan suburb. No casualties were immediately reported, except for shock victims. Sirens alerted residents that rockets were coming into the area just after 9 p.m. local time. Code Red sirens alerted the towns of central Israel in the heart of Tel Aviv, Bnei Brak, Ramat Gan, Holon and Mikveh Israel. The Islamic Jihad terrorist organization claimed responsibility for the rocket launches. The last time Palestinian rockets were aimed at a major Israeli city was last August during an IDF military operation. "No rocket fell in any built-up area," military spokesman Brigadier-General Ronen Manelis told Israel Radio, declining to provide further operational details. "This was basically a surprise," Manelis said, adding that Israel had no advance intelligence warnings of the rocket fire. "We don't know who carried it out (but) the Hamas organization is the main organization in the Strip. It is responsible for what happens within the Strip and what emanates from it." The Egyptian delegation that came to Gaza to promote the truce between Israel and Hamas left the Gaza Strip at Israel's request but continues to hold intensive talks with the parties in order to try to prevent further escalation. Hamas and other terrorist groups in Gaza are braced for the IDF to strike back. All Israel's emergency services are on alert. Binyamin Netanyahu, in his capacity as defense minister, and IDF Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Aviv Kochavi, Thursday night led an emergency consultation at General Staff headquarters at Hakirya on Israel's response to the sudden Palestinian rocket. The tension between Israel and the Palestinians in Gaza have increased in recent weeks. The Hamas-run "interior ministry" in Gaza vowed on Thursday night that it would take action against those responsible for the rocket fire on central Israel, Channel 13 News reported. "The rocket fire was carried out without the consent of the Palestinian factions. The security forces in the Gaza Strip will take measures against those who violated the national consensus," said the ministry, according to the report. The Hamas military wing added that the rockets were fired during a meeting between Hamas leaders and the Egyptian delegation in an attempt to agree on a truce with Israel. The municipality of Tel Aviv ordered the opening shelters and protected spaces throughout the city. In Rishon Lezion, as well, the mayor decided to open the shelters. Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai said he had ordered the city to open public air raid shelters as a protective measure. The attacks came as Gaza rulers Hamas sought to contain riots by Palestinians in the coastal enclave and security experts in Israel speculated that the domestic disturbances could lead the terror group to strike Israel as a diversion. Sources in the Gaza Strip said that Hamas ordered all its men to abandon their bases and offices in anticipation of an Israeli retaliatory attack. US Special Envoy to the Middle East Jason Greenblatt took to Twitter blaming Hamas for the rocket fire, tweeting: "Hamas violently suppresses its people demonstrating against Hamas' rule & failures today and NOW fires rockets at cities in Israel. OUTRAGEOUS! This is what prevents the world from helping the people of Gaza! We strongly support Israel in defense of its citizens. Always!" The IDF has warned that both Hamas and PIJ have restored their military capabilities to their pre-2014 strength, and expect that in the next war the southern communities bordering the Strip would be incessantly pounded with rockets and mortar attacks. In late February, PIJ released a video claiming that it had developed a new missile with the help of Iran, capable of striking cities beyond Netanya. During a violent escalation between Israel and terror groups in the Strip in November, the group launched a new rocket that hit an apartment complex in the southern city of Ashkelon, killing one Palestinian man and injuring several others. The IDF military intelligence assessment for 2019 has warned that Israel is facing a high risk of military escalation in the Gaza Strip. Based on the assessment, IDF Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Aviv Kochavi has prioritized the southern front as one which could explode into war at any moment. In one of his first visits as chief of staff, Kochavi went to the Southern Command, met with senior officers and approved operational plans for war, including setting up a centralized administrative unit to prepare a list of potential targets in Gaza in case a war should break out. Sources in the Gaza Strip said that Hamas ordered all its men to abandon their bases and offices in anticipation of an Israeli retaliatory attack. Pro-Hizbullah and pro-Iran regime media and social media accounts lit up on Thursday night after two rockets were fired at Tel Aviv from Gaza. It indicates the close attention paid to tensions in Israel between Israel and terrorist groups in Gaza. Lebanon's satellite TV station Al-Mayadeen, which is generally supportive of the Syrian regime and Hizbullah, wrote a story within minutes of the reports of Iron Dome being activated. "Occupation admits that Palestinians bomb `Tel Aviv,'" the headline read. Relying on Israel's Channel 12, the article noted that booms were heard in central Israel and that bomb shelters might be opened. Similarly, Tasnim News Agency in Iran wrote up the article noting that Iron Dome had intercepted the rockets. Shehab News, which is supportive of Hamas, posted video and news on the rocket fire. Hizbullah's Al-Manar also reported the rocket fire. Hossein Dalirian, director of defense coverage for Tansim News, tweeted that two Fajr-5 rockets were fired at Tel Aviv. It wasn't clear why he specified the Fajr-5, which was developed by Iran and supplied to Islamic Jihad in Gaza. This rocket was used in 2012 to strike at Tel Aviv and has a range of at least 75 km. Hamas also used them in 2012. Dalirian noted that this was the first time a rocket had been fired over Tel Aviv in five years. Palestinian media, relying on Israeli reports, pointed to Islamic Jihad as a culprit. But Islamic Jihad itself was more circumspect after the firing. Social media sources supportive of Islamic Jihad claimed that it was mere rumors that pointed to them as the source of the rocket fire. The rocket fire came amid inclement weather blanketing Israel and Gaza. Hamas had dispersed protesters earlier in the afternoon. The terrorist organization is preparing for the first anniversary of its "Great March of Return" and is under stress because of the economic deterioration in Gaza, relying on cash payments from Qatar for bare essentials. This means that it must concentrate anger at Israel and does not want internal protests. With the Israeli elections approaching, there are also concerns about Iranian meddling. Islamic Jihad is close to Iran and fired rockets last year at Israel during tensions. At the time, Iran was accused of being behind the rocket fire. Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei said on Thursday that Iran must "mobilize all its resources" against external enemies: "the US and the Zionists." His comments could be indicative of a message to threaten Israel. It comes as Iranian President Hassan Rouhani wraps up a major trip to Iraq and after Tehran carried out a major drone exercise this week.


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