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Monday, March 1, 2021

Rocket Fire Continues After Islamic Jihad Announces Unilateral Ceasefire

Incoming rocket sirens continued to wail after Palestinian Islamic Jihad announced that it would stop firing rockets towards Israel on Monday evening after the group fired over 50 rockets in the second day of violence with the Iranian-backed terror group.

A spokesman for the al-Quds Brigades, Islamic Jihad’s military wing, took to Twitter to say the group was behind the most recent rocket fire from the Strip because Israel continued to carry out strikes.

“We had announced the conclusion of our military response to the assassination crimes in Khan Younis and Damascus, but the enemy did not abide and bombarded our sites and fighters. Therefore, we announce that we retaliated in order to affirm the bombardment for bombardment model,” the group’s spokesperson Abu Hamza wrote on Twitter.

“We tell the enemy not to test us. We will establish the equation…. your threats will not frighten us,” he continued, adding that “whoever bets on breaking the resistance through aggression and terrorism will lose their political future and the threats of leaders of the occupation will not bring security to the settlers.”

Palestinian terror groups in the Gaza Strip later said that they had agreed to a ceasefire with Israel which would go into effect at 10PM.

Earlier in the evening the group said that it had “finished its military response to the assassination crimes in Khan Younis and Damascus” but warned that it would respond to any “continued [aggression] by the occupation against our people and land.”

An Israeli security official said that Jerusalem has received “messages from various ranks within the Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) regarding a desire for an immediate ceasefire,” but he said, Israel was “skeptical” of the claims and would believe only the actions on the ground rather than words.

“The IDF will continue to act until quiet is restored to the south,” the official said.

The IDF Spokesperson’s Unit stated that of the 50 rockets fired towards Israel 90% were intercepted by the Iron Dome System.

While the majority of the other rockets struck open fields, others fell in residential communities-one near a playground in the college town of Sderot as well as in the yard of a home. In Netivot, rocket shrapnel fell near a house.

The Israeli military carried out retaliatory strikes against PIJ targets across the Gaza Strip throughout the day on Monday, including a military compound in Khan Younis used for training and to store weapons as well as underground infrastructure, rocket launchpads used to fire rockets into Israel as well as compounds for storing naval weapons.

Following the ceasefire announcement by PIJ, an incoming rocket siren was activated around 8PM in the community of Kissufim after a mortar was fired from the Strip.

One wave of rocket fire from Gaza just before 4 pm and lasted over an hour and a half. Sirens wailed in the cities of Ashkelon, Sderot and Netivot and surrounding communities as rockets and mortar shells fired from the blockaded coastal enclave.

Israel’s Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT) announced that due to the rocket fire, the Erez crossing with Gaza would be closed, no merchants would be able to cross into Israel, and the fishing zone would be reduced to 6 nautical miles.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who was in Ariel with the US Ambassador David Friedman, warned that Israel may launch a broader campaign against Hamas in Gaza if rockets are not totally stopped.

“Last night we attacked in Gaza and in Syria,” he said. “I don’t plan to let up…Beyond the hard strikes on our enemies, Hamas and Islamic Jihad need to understand – this won’t continue. If they do not completely stop, we will have to activate the plan we prepared for a broad campaign.”

Netanyahu said these are not just words, and that the plan goes beyond the past three IDF operations in Gaza.  However, he said war is the final option.

“I am not hurrying into war. I know the price that our soldiers and the families of the fallen pay,” Netanyahu, whose brother Yoni was killed in action, said.  Still, the prime minister said that if there is no choice: “Woe to Hamas and Islamic Jihad when that day comes! It’s their choice.”

“We will do what it takes to bring back total security for the residents of the south,” he vowed.

Netanyahu also visited an Iron Dome battery in Ashdod, where he said “yesterday we attacked in several fronts, in Syria and in Gaza, and we are continuing to strike now, with planes, tanks and helicopters. We will continue to strike until it is quiet again. We have a message to the heads of terrorist organizations: If the quiet doesn’t return, you’re next.”

Defense Minister Naftali Bennett met with citizens and council heads in Sderot and the Gaza border communities on Monday. “We are not interested in a broad campaign but we are preparing a plan, and if there is no choice, we will put it into action. We won’t tell the enemy when and where,” said Bennett.

UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process Nickolay Mladenov called on Hamas and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad to halt its rocket and mortar fire against Israel, which he said, “only risk dragging Gaza into another round of hostilities with no end in sight.”

In a video briefing to the UN Security Council in New York he said, “the indiscriminate launching of rockets against civilian population centers violates international law and must end.”

“The past 48 hours have once again shown us how fragile the situation in Gaza is. Its population suffers under Hamas’ rule and Israeli closures while militant activity forces Israeli communities to live in constant fear of the next rocket attack. No amount of humanitarian or economic support on its own will resolve either the situation in Gaza or the broader conflict. Gaza ultimately requires a political solution,” Mladenov said.

The Islamic Jihad’s military wing — the al-Quds Brigades — warned earlier on Monday that they were “ready to confront any aggression. The enemy should know that if it continues [to carry out aggression], we will respond with force.”

Earlier in the day Netanyahu spoke with Sderot Mayor Alon Davidi and Ashkelon Mayor Tomer Glam, updating them on the security situation. He also held a telephone security consultation with the heads of the security establishment.

Shortly before a barrage of rocket fire in the early afternoon, Defense Minister Naftali Bennett said that Israel is “preparing a plan to fundamentally change the situation in the Gaza Strip. I really understand the situation of the people of the South; they deserve peace and security.”

“We have eliminated at least six terrorists over the last day – not only in Gaza – but we have also made progress in hurting the source of the problem. But deterrence is not built in a moment,” he said during a conference in Jerusalem on Monday.

The hostilities began on Sunday when Israel killed a PIJ terrorist who planted an explosive device and prevented Palestinians from retrieving his body. Israel then came under an intense barrage of 26 rockets, 13 of which were intercepted by the Iron Dome missile defense system.

On Sunday night Israel carried out retaliatory airstrikes against PIJ targets in Syria and throughout the Gaza Strip following earlier rocket fire, killing at least six terror operatives.

Amid fears of violence, the IDF’s Home Front Command announced that roads, schools and the train line near the Gaza Strip would be closed.

The areas and roads that are blocked are all agricultural access routes west of Road 232. In both directions, Highway 4 will also be closed from the Zikim Junction to the intersection of Kibbutz Netiv Haasara, Road 34 from Yad Mordechai Junction to the Kibbutz Nir Am and Road 232 from Kibbutz Mefalsim to Kfar Gaza Junction.

In addition, the entrance to Kobe Hill in Sderot, the Black Arrow Memorial, the Bells Hill, the Nazeemite Hill and the Lone Horseshoe Hill will also be banned. Zikim Beach is closed to the public.

Israel Railways said in a statement that trains between Ashkelon and Beersheba would stop operating and the stations in Sderot, Netivot and Ofakim would be closed.

Hamas and PIJ had earlier threatened to avenge the killing of a terrorist by the IDF after he tried to plant explosives along the Gaza border fence early Sunday morning.

Graphic footage from the scene showed an IDF bulldozer driving at high speed toward a group of Palestinian youth throwing stones to prevent them from retreiving 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.

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

In response to the ongoing criticism of how the IDF took the body, Bennett on Monday that his goal wasn’t to release terrorists until the bodies of the fallen IDF soldiers are returned to Israel.”

I have a goal – to bring the bodies of Hadar Goldin and Oron Shaul home, not by releasing murderers. I sent them both to fight in Protective Edge, and the way to get them back is by increasing the pain for Hamas. ”


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