By ISRAEL HAYOM—
On the second day of a Mideast tour, U.S. President Barack Obama was set to emphasize the importance of reaching an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal, a message underscored Thursday when Palestinian terrorists in the Gaza Strip launched rockets into southern Israel.
On Wednesday, Obama reaffirmed the unwavering U.S. commitment to Israel’s security and noted there had been no fatal attacks on Israelis from the West Bank, which is controlled by Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.
But that calm has not extended to Gaza, which is run by the Islamic terrorist Hamas movement. As Obama began his busy day, terrorists in Gaza fired two rockets at the southern town of Sderot. Two additional rockets aimed at Israel apparently exploded inside Palestinian territory.
One of the rockets exploded in the courtyard of a house in Sderot early in the morning, causing damage but no injuries, said police spokesman Chief Insp. Micky Rosenfeld. Several people were treated for shock. The other rocket struck an open area, causing no injuries or damage.
Israeli officials said Israel would retaliate for the rockets at a time and place of its choosing, and not during Obama’s visit. The officials added that they would be asking Abbas to condemn the rocket attack. There has been no directives for residents of the south to take extra precautions, pointing to the possibility that the defense establishment sees Thursday’s rocket fire as a pinpoint event.
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas complied and condemned the attack later in the day. “We condemn violence against civilians regardless of its source, including rocket firing,” Abbas was quoted as saying by the official Palestinian Wafa news agency.
Later Thursday, addressing a press conference in Ramallah, U.S. President Barack Obama also criticized the attack, saying that “we condemn this violation of the important ceasefire that protects both Israelis and Palestinians, a violation that Hamas has a responsibility to prevent.” He added that Secretary of State John Kerry would spend “significant time and energy to try to narrow Israeli-Palestinian differences.
Yossi Haziza, the Sderot resident whose home was hit by a rocket Thursday morning, told Army Radio that “I was on my way to Ashkelon when I heard the Color Red early warning siren go off three times, and I turned back around after two minutes. I got out of the car and went immediately into the protected room, while the car was still running. My wife and daughter were already there. The rocket hit the wall of my living room, and the path leading up to the house now has a large black hole.”
“We will get through this. I only hope that Obama sees what the people here are going through. I have an eight-year-old daughter, she is utterly frightened, she hasn’t left the protected room yet — 40 minutes after the rocket strike, and it does something to her,” Haziza said. “In the past, I lived above a man whose house was hit by a Qassam rocket. Now that I’ve moved, a rocket strikes here, too.”
Sara Haziza, Yossi’s wife, told Army Radio that “this was not a surprise. We knew that they would fire a salvo while Obama is here. These salvos strike deep in our hearts — there are consequences that we will be paying for long into the future. They always say ‘no injuries reported’ but all here are injured in their souls. I want Obama to come here and see how people live — we build villas but live in cages.”
The rockets that hit southern Israel on Thursday were not makeshift, as Qassam rockets fired from Gaza often are, but rather they were mass-produced 107 mm diameter rockets, Army Radio reported.
Sderot Mayor David Buskila also commented on the rocket fire Thursday, saying that “I have no doubt that the attack on Sderot came as a result of Obama’s visit to Israel.”
“This is not a coincidence. They wanted to communicate a clear message: ‘You are not coming to Gaza, but we are here, and we will be the ones who decide whether there is calm.’ In my opinion, terror organizations in Gaza conducted a sort of correspondence with Obama through rocket fire, as if to say ‘you will visit Israel and Ramallah, but we will set the tone.’”
A senior defense official suggested Thursday that it was not Hamas who fired the rockets, but rather one of the smaller, insubordinate organizations working in defiance of Hamas directives. Israeli authorities were bracing for the possibility that this was not a pinpoint incident but rather a part of a larger-scale attempt to drag Israel into a confrontation.
Hamas-affiliated media outlets in Gaza denied any Hamas involvement in the rocket fire. Senior Hamas officials accused Israel of plotting to escalate tensions. “We don’t know of any rocket fire into Israel. This is apparently yet another Zionist plot that was unsurprisingly timed to coincide with the American president’s presence in the region,” one Hamas official said.
As a presidential candidate in 2008, Obama visited the border town, which is frequently targeted by rocket attacks from the nearby Gaza Strip.