Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Benny Gantz visited the northern Gaza border region on Saturday and met with military forces operating in the sector. Gantz spoke with infantry and tank unit commanders and examined preparations underway for a possible escalation.
Gantz was accompanied by OC Southern Command Maj.-Gen. Sami Turgermeran, as well as the commanders of the Planning Branch and C4i Branch.
The IDF chief said Hamas bears responsibility forongoing rocket fire from Gaza, and the the IDF is prepared to provide any necessary response to ensure that southern residents can lead routine lives.
"We'll know how to respond with much force if quiet isn't returned to the area," Gantz said.
Three rockets were shot down over Ashkelon after the rocket defense system intercepted a projectile fired at Beersheba.
Another rocket fell in an open area near Ashkelon, and a second one exploded in Sha'ar Hanegev.
Shortly afterward, the Israel Air Force struck Gaza terror operative who was preparing to fire a rocket at Israel. The terrorist had fired rockets at Ofakim in recent days, the IDF said.
Earlier in the evening, the IAF struck three terror sites in southern Gaza Strip in response to a continuous barrage of rockets fired at southern Israel throughout the day.
"The IDF is prepared to defend Israeli citizens from any threat and will continue to act decisively and as long as necessary and until quiet and routine living standards are restored," the IDF Spokesperson's Unit said in a statement.
The military placed the onus on Hamas for terror activities emanating from the coastal Palestinian enclave.
Palestinian rocket and mortar fire continued to afflict parts of southern Israel throughout the weekend, with some 30 projectiles falling in areas close to the Gaza border.
A soldier was injured by shrapnel from a projectile in Eshkol on Saturday. Paramedics evacuated him to hospital for treatment.
By Saturday evening, 12 rockets fell in Eshkol and Sdot Negev, and the Iron Dome rocket defense system intercepted a projectile over the town of Ofakim.
The regions of Sdot Negev and Eshkol came under regular projectile fire throughout the day.
On Friday too, Iron Dome batteries went into action. Two interceptions of rockets occurred over Ofakim, and one over Sderot.
On Friday, terrorists in the Strip fired 14 rockets at Israel.
The IAF also struck targets in the southern Gaza Strip on Friday evening in retaliation for the Palestinian rocket barrage that pounded the South.
Gaza terrorists continued to increase the range of their rocket attacks on Saturday, targeting Beersheba for the first time since November 2012.
Three rockets were fired at the city on Saturday evening, setting off warning sirens in the largest town in southern Israel. One was intercepted by the Iron Dome defense system, while two fell in open fields. There were no reports of casualties.
The attack on Beersheba, which has a population of 200,000, marked a significant escalation in the Gaza rocket attacks, and could lead to a severe Israeli response.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu held urgent consultations saturday evening with Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon, Public Security Minister Yitzhak Aharonovitch, and the heads of the security services. He said Israel was hitting Hamas targets in response to the rocket fire, and would use additional force if necessary.
After ordering increased Israeli forces to the Gaza border on Thursday, Netanyahu had warned: “One possibility is that the fire will stop and the quiet continues. The other is that the fire continues and then the increased forces that are in the south will act forcefully. The safety of our citizens is first and foremost.
Shortly after the attack on Beersheba Saturday, five more rockets were fired towards the Hof Ashkelon and Eshkol regions. Three of them were intercepted by Iron Dome while two fell in open areas. The town of Ofakim was also targeted in an earlier salvo.
In all, over 20 rockets and mortar shells had been fired into Israel by nightfall on Saturday, causing no significant damage, though a soldier was lightly wounded by mortar fire.
The seemingly limited Israeli response to the continuing rocket salvos appeared to indicate that Jerusalem was still waiting to see whether Hamas would curb the rocket-fire as reports proliferated of an impending ceasefire agreement.
However, with the attack on Beersheba, Israeli patience could now be wearing thin.
Former military intelligence chief, Amos Yadlin, now director of the Institute for National Security Studies, had said early Saturday that Hamas was wary of launching rockets deeper into Israel, at Beersheba or the center of the country, which, he argued, indicated that Israel has not lost its deterrent power.
“There is no doubt that we are facing another round [of violence] with Hamas. We will take action when Hamas crosses the line and the next round will be significant, and will involve ground and air campaign,” he said.
While the Israeli government appeared interested in de-escalation, not all of its members seemed to agree that restoring calm was the best course of action.
“The idea that ‘quiet will be answered with quiet’ is a serious mistake,” Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman said on a visit to Sderot on Friday, adding that he believed Israel must now strike Hamas hard.
“The residents of the south are not second grade citizens, and we must respond to the rocket-fire at Beersheba just as we would respond to an attack on Tel Aviv, and not wait for an attack on Tel Aviv,” he said.
Two policemen were reported to have been wounded in the various altercations.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu met Saturday evening with top security officials, Channel 2 reported, and instructed them to meet violence and unrest with a firm hand, adding that lawbreakers would be dealt with severely.
In the city of Nazareth, hundreds of protesters congregated on a central road, hurled rocks at policemen and burned tires.
Heavy rioting was also reported in the Wadi Ara area in northern Israel, where police said they were being pelted with stones and responded with crowd control measures.
Demonstrations also took place outside the towns of Kalanswa and Taibe following violent clashes with security forces overnight. Hundreds of people chanted slogans, hurled rocks and burned tires in several demonstrations in the area. Police arrived at the scene and, after calling on the demonstrators to disperse peacefully, attempted to break up the crowds with anti-riot gear, Ynet reported.
The mayor of Kalanswa attempted to calm Arab residents, calling on them to avoid rioting and leave the streets.
An unnamed senior police source told Ynet that clashes in East Jerusalem and other parts of Israel were expected to escalate in the coming days, with “more and more people joining the riots.”
In the Wadi Ara area in northern Israel on Saturday, several Molotov cocktails were launched at the town of Mei Ami. Police were called to the scene.
The clashes came after a day of violent demonstrations in East Jerusalem on the heels of the funeral of Abu Khdeir, whose body was found in a Jerusalem forest on Wednesday in what is believed to have been a revenge killing for the kidnapping and murder of Naftali Fraenkel, Eyal Yifrach and Gil-ad Shaar who were laid to rest Tuesday.
Clashes Continue Into The Night
Clashes between Arab protesters and police continued into the night on Saturday, after raging in the Triangle area, East Jerusalem and Wadi Ara all day.
Four firefighting teams were battling a fire near Har Homa that was believed to have been started started from a Molotov cocktail.
In the Palestinian village of Sharafat, near the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Gilo, some 200 protesters were rioting. A police force was working to push them back to the village.
In the Antonia neighborhood in Jerusalem's Old City, dozens of Arab youths were throwing stones and fireworks at police. A police force used crowd dispersal means.
Following the violent clashes, Qalansawe Mayor Abdel Baset Salame held an urgent meeting with city dignitaries, school principles, council members and sheikhs and asked them all to work to stop the rioting.
"In the early morning hours I arrived at a scene of rioting. I tried to calm the youths down but unfortunately I was unable to," he told Ynet.
In Tayibe, some 400 people were protesting near the main road. Protesters clashed with police, throwing stones at the Yasam force at the scene. Police used rubber bullets, tear gas, stun grenades and a truck of sewage water to disperse the crowd. Protesters were calling out "we will sacrifice our lives and our blood for Al-Aqsa." They said they will continue fighting the IDF in the West Bank.
A driver in a private vehicle attempted to run over several policemen in Tayibe. The Sharon District Commander, Koby Shabtay, fired four bullets at the car's back wheels to stop it. The driver fled the scene.
Dozens of residents were also protesting at the entrance of Ar'ara on Highway 65 in Wadi Ara. They were hurling rocks, burning tires and throwing fireworks at police. Police stopped them from marching towards the main junction junction outside the village and blocking traffic. A policeman was lightly injured from a stone thrown at him, and one protester was arrested for disrubing the peace.
In Nazareth, some 1,000 people were demonstrating on the city's main road. About 100 Arab youths burned tires at HaMusachim Junction in the city. A police force was working to disperse them. The north-bound road from Nazareth was closed for traffic.
On Ma'ale Yitzhak road in Nazareth Illit, some 200 residents protested the rioting in neighboring Nazareth.
As a result of the rioting, Route 5614, that leads from Highway 57 to Qalansawe and Tayibe, as well as Highway 444, were closed for traffic.
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