An early morning rocket fired from the Gaza Strip yesterday demolished a house in central Israel, wounding seven people and prompting Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to cut short a trip to Washington.
The military quickly mobilized troops and called up reserves, setting the stage for a potential major conflagration shortly before Israel’s April 9 parliamentary elections.
The rocket destroyed a residential home in the farming community of Mishmeret, north of the city of Kfar Saba, wounding six members of a family.
The Magen David Adom rescue service said it treated seven people overall, including two women who were moderately wounded. The others, including two children and an infant, had minor wounds.
The sounds of air raid sirens jolted residents of the Sharon area, northeast of Tel Aviv, from their sleep shortly after 5am, sending them scurrying to bomb shelters. A strong sound of an explosion followed.
The Israeli military said militants from Gaza’s ruling Hamas movement fired the rocket from one of their launching pads in southern Gaza Strip, near Rafah.
It was a self-manufactured rocket with a range of 120km, military spokeswoman Major Mika Lifshitz said, adding that two armor and infantry brigades were being mobilized to the Gaza front and that a limited drafting of reserves was also taking place.
The family home in Mishmeret was left in ruins, with tiles, broken furniture and debris scattered about. A shattered baby’s crib lay among the rubble and two family dogs died in the explosion.
“It’s a miracle that nobody got killed,” said Assi Dvilanski, a Magen David Adom paramedic who was one of the first responders at the scene.
Netanyahu, in Washington to meet US President Donald Trump, held emergency consultations with military officials back in Israel and decided to cut his visit short, canceling a planned address to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee conference and meetings with congressional leaders.
“There has been a criminal attack on the state of Israel and we will respond forcefully,” he said. “In a few hours I will meet with President Trump. I will return to Israel immediately afterward.”
Anticipating a strong Israeli response, Gaza’s Hamas leaders have apparently gone underground. Witnesses reported seeing Hamas evacuating its personnel from government premises.
Hamas also announced that its Gaza chief, Yehiya Sinwar, had canceled a scheduled public speech.
Israel also shut down its main crossings into Gaza and imposed restrictions on fishing off the Gazan coast.
Yesterday’s attack came 10 days after rockets were fired from Gaza toward Tel Aviv. The Israeli military at the time struck back and the sides appeared to be hurtling toward another confrontation, but Gaza’s Hamas leaders said the rocket was fired accidently and calm was quickly restored.
There was no immediate claim of responsibility for yesterday’s attack, but it would seem to be much harder to dismiss the latest incident as another misfire.
“We do not yet have a full understanding of who exactly ordered the firing of the rocket,” said Eran Lerman, a former deputy director at Israel’s National Security Council. “But clearly this is no longer something that can be explained away as a mistake or a technical failure.”
The outburst comes at a sensitive time for both sides.
Netanyahu, who also serves as defense minister, is locked in a tight fight for re-election and has faced heavy criticism from his opponents for what they say has been an ineffective response to Gaza militants.
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