Rocket hits house north of Tel Aviv, seven Israelis wounded; Benjamin Netanyahu to cut US visit short

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Published: March 25, 2019 2:03:09 PM

A rocket fired from the Gaza Strip hit a house in a community north of Tel Aviv on Monday, wounding seven Israelis and leading Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to cut short a visit to the United States.

Rocket hits house north of Tel Aviv, seven Israelis wounded; Benjamin Netanyahu to cut US visit short (File photo)Rocket hits house north of Tel Aviv, seven Israelis wounded; Benjamin Netanyahu to cut US visit short (File photo)

A rocket fired from the Gaza Strip hit a house in a community north of Tel Aviv on Monday, wounding seven Israelis and leading Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to cut short a visit to the United States. Israel’s army said the rocket was fired from the Palestinian enclave run by Islamist movement Hamas, raising the risk of another escalation between the two sides just ahead of April 9 Israeli elections.

Netanyahu is currently in Washington and said he would return home after meeting US President Donald Trump later Monday, cancelling an address to pro-Israel lobby AIPAC’s annual conference on Tuesday. Israel also closed its people and goods crossings with the blockaded Gaza Strip and reduced the zone in the Mediterranean it allows for Palestinian fishermen off the enclave, a statement said. The house hit was located in the community of Mishmeret, around 20 kilometres north of Tel Aviv, police said. Mishmeret is more than 80 kilometres from the Gaza Strip and rocket fire from the Palestinian enclave at that distance is rare.

The hospital treating the wounded said seven Israelis were injured lightly by burns and shrapnel, including four adults and three children. One of the wounded was a six-month-old child and six of them were members of the same family. The house was destroyed in the wake of the rocket and subsequent fire, with burnt wood, a children’s toy and other debris piled at the site. Netanyahu said “there has been a criminal attack on the state of Israel and we will respond with force.” “I have decided, due to the security incidents, to cut short my visit to the United States,” he said in a video released by his office.

“I will meet President (Donald) Trump in a few hours and just after that I will return to Israel to lead closely the operations.” There was no immediate response from Hamas or other militant groups in Gaza. The rocket comes after mounting tensions in recent weeks. Netanyahu is believed by many analysts to want to avoid another war in the Gaza Strip — the fourth since 2008 — with unpredictable results ahead of the elections. But he faces a tough challenge from a centrist political alliance led by former military chief Benny Gantz and he will come under heavy political pressure to react firmly.

Monday’s incident comes after two rockets were fired from Gaza towards Tel Aviv — also rare — on March 14. No damage or injuries were caused, but Israel responded to that and further rocket fire by hitting what it said were around 100 Hamas targets across the Gaza Strip. Four Palestinians were reported wounded in those strikes. Both Hamas and its ally Islamic Jihad denied they were behind the March 14 rocket fire towards Tel Aviv, raising the possibility they were launched by fringe groups. Israel’s military said they were launched by Hamas, but later there were Israeli media reports that the army’s preliminary assessment was that they had been fired by mistake during maintenance work.

The reports were a sign that Israel was seeking to calm tensions. The military refused to comment on the reports at the time. Monday’s rocket comes just days ahead of the March 30 one-year anniversary of Palestinian protests and clashes along the Gaza Strip’s border with Israel. An informal truce between Hamas and Israel had led to relative calm along the border, but recent weeks have seen another uptick in violence.

Netanyahu’s visit to the United States was expected to include Trump’s formal recognition of Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights, which it seized from Syria in the 1967 Six-Day War. Breaking with longstanding international consensus, Trump said last week that the United States should recognise Israeli sovereignty there.

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