Friday, December 29, 2017

IDF Strikes Hamas Targets After Gaza Rocket Hits Israeli Community, Gunmen Attack Coptic Christian Church Near Cairo

IDF strikes Hamas targets after Gaza rocket hits Israeli community

Israel carried out a series of strikes against Hamas targets in Gaza Friday afternoon, the army said, in retaliation for a volley of rockets fired at Israel from the Palestinian enclave.
In a statement, the IDF spokesperson said Israeli planes and tanks targeted two Hamas sites in the northern Gaza Strip.
The retaliatory fire came an hour after three rockets were fired from the Gaza Strip, in the first such incident in over a week.
Two of the rockets were intercepted by the Iron Dome air defense system while the third fell in Israeli territory in the Shaar Hanegev region, on the Gaza border.
Police said they found the rocket at the entrance to a building that had sustained damaged from the fall.
Rocket warning sirens were heard shortly before midday in the Shaar Hanegev and Sedot Hanegev regions, sending frightened residents running to shelters.
There were no immediate reports of casualties or damage.

The rockets were the first fired from Gaza since December 18, which followed two weeks of numerous attacks, the largest incidence of rocket fire from the Strip since the 2014 Israel-Hamas war.

According to Israeli assessments, these rockets are not being launched by Hamas, but by other terrorist groups in the Strip. However, analysts have noted that Hamas was either unwilling or unable to clamp down on the groups.

On December 19, Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman said he believed that the rocket fire by Gaza-based terrorist groups was over, referring to the attacks as the “price” Israel had to pay for US President Donald Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.

Three rockets were fired from the Gaza Strip towards Israel on Friday morning, the IDF said, adding that two of the rockets were intercepted by Israel's Iron Dome missile defense system.

Israel Police confirmed that a third rocket struck an Israeli community in the Negev region bordering the Gaza Strip, causing damage to a building but no injuries. Police bomb disposal experts are working at the scene.

In response, IDF tanks and aircraft targeted two Gaza Strip outposts belonging to Hamas in the northern Gaza Strip. 

Rocket fire from Gaza had been on the rise following US President Donald Trump's decision to formally recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, although the last two weeks had seen quiet return to the area.

During the increased tensions, Israel repeatedly responded to days of rocket fire, striking 40 Hamas targets in the Gaza Strip over a two-week period.

On Wednesday, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warned leaders in the Gaza Strip not to provoke Israel.

"It is up to Gaza to decide whether there will be a state of calm in Gaza. We will not allow or tolerate an escalation from Hamas or from any other terrorist element. We will use all means to defend Israel’s sovereignty and security,” Netanyahu said.
The rockets fired on Friday interrupted a ceremony in Kfar Aza that marked the 24th birthday of Oron Shaul, an IDF soldier who was killed during Operation Protective Edge in Gaza in 2014 and whose body is still being held by Hamas. 

"The rocket fire in the middle of the ceremony testifies to the lack of Israeli deterrence," said Gabbay. "They know there's a ceremony and so they shoot. It's insufferable. I hope our government will respond as necessary."

Kara wrote on Twitter: "Thank God that everyone is fine and thank you to all those for asking how we are doing. Shabbat Shalom to the people of Israel and to the security forces, whoever and wherever they are."

The three rockets fired from the Gaza Strip at Israel on Friday appeared to have been launched to deliberately coincide with a ceremony marking what would have been the 24th birthday of an IDF soldier who was killed, and whose remains were captured by Hamas, in 2014.
A military official could not yet say that this was definitively the case, and stressed that the army was still investigating the issue, but said it “absolutely could be,” noting the uncommon timing of the attack.
In general, terrorist groups fire their rockets under the cover of darkness, rather than in broad daylight, as in Friday’s launches.
Three rockets were launched at the Sha’ar Hanegev and Sdot Hanegev regions of southern Israel on Friday afternoon. Two of them were intercepted by the Iron Dome missile defense system, while the third struck near a building one of the communities in the area.
The censor does not allow the exact location of the strike to be published, as it could assist terrorist groups in their targeting for future attacks.
The launches were also directed toward the area where ceremony was being held, in a location overlooking where Staff Sergeant Oron Shaul was killed in the 2014 Gaza war.
The time and location of the event were publicized ahead of time.
Yesh Atid MK Haim Jellin, a former head of a regional council just outside Gaza, was at the ceremony in honor of Shaul, filming the event for a Facebook Live video.
The barrage came just after a musical performance, setting off loudspeakers in the area, which blared, “Code Red. Code Red,” the term for an incoming rocket attack.

Far from bomb shelters, Jellin and the other members of the audience took cover on the grass, lying on the ground with their hands over their heads.
In the video, Oron Shaul’s clearly distraught mother Zehava could be seen being escorted away.
In the video, one member of the audience could be heard shouting in anger, saying repeatedly that Israel should “conquer Gaza.”

An organizer of the event called for everyone to keep calm and to make their way back to the nearby kibbutz’s bomb shelters.
Shortly after the rocket barrage, the Israel Defense Forces retaliated by attacking two Hamas positions with tank shelling and strikes from aircraft.
The barrage was the first such incident since December 18.

Gunmen killed at least nine people including three police in an attack on a Coptic Christian church south of Cairo on Friday, medical and security sources said.

The two attackers opened fire at the entrance to the church of Mar Mina in Helwan district, which was being guarded by police in the run-up to Orthodox Christmas celebrations next week, security sources said.

One attacker was shot dead by security forces, the sources and the state-run news agency MENA reported. State television said the second had been captured.

Islamist militants have claimed several attacks on Egypt's large Christian minority in recent years, including two bomb attacks on Palm Sunday in April and a blast at Cairo's largest Coptic cathedral last December that killed 28 people.

The Health Ministry said that nine people had been killed on Friday in addition to the gunman, and five wounded, including two women in serious condition.

Local media said the dead attacker had been wearing an explosive belt, and that two other bombs had been defused near the church.

Sirens were heard in central Cairo immediately after the incident.

Police have stepped up security measures around churches ahead of the Coptic Christmas celebrations on January 7, deploying officers outside Christian places of worship and setting up metal detectors at some of the bigger churches.

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