Gaza fire resumes during US president’s Middle East trip: Five Color Red alerts sound in southern city Thursday morning; one rocket lands in local house’s backyard without causing any injuries, another rocket hits open area
Five Qassam rockets were fired at southern Israel from Gaza on Thursday morning, on the second day of US President Barack Obama’s visit to the Middle East.
After a long period of calm following Operation Pillar of Defense, a Color Red alert sounded in the city of Sderot at around 7:15 am, followed by additional air raid sirens, one of them in the Shaar Hanegev Regional Council.
One of the rockets hit the backyard of a house in Sderot, while another landed in an open area. There were no reports of injuries, but the yard sustained slight damage. Two additional rockets are believed to have landed on Palestinian territory.
According to initial estimates, the rockets were fired from the northern Gaza Strip town of Beit Hanoun.
Meir, a resident of the Sderot neighborhood hit by a rocket, told Ynet: “When I heard the first siren I thought it was a false alarm. We’ve already had some of those in the area. But immediately after I heard the second siren, I came to my senses. We’ve come to learn that even if you don’t hear an explosion at first, it doesn’t mean that it won’t come. And it really did come, when the third siren sounded.”
He said he used his bedroom as a fortified area, but that “the high alert and the fear caused by the Color Red alert take me back to terrible days here in the city.”
Doron Fartush, who lives next to the house hit by the rocket, said he also thought it was a false alarm at first, but that “when we heard the second Color Red alert we realized it was serious and that they were firing at the city. And then, after the third siren, we heard a loud explosion.
“When we realized it had landed in the area, we started checking. Luckily, it landed in the neighbors’ yard. It looks like someone on the other side wants to show its force when an important personality arrives in Israel.”
Sderot Mayor David Buskila is also certain that the Gaza fire is directly related to Obama’s visit. “The rockets fired at the city this morning are the Gaza organizations’ way of communicating with the US president who is now in Israel. I believe they are trying to tell him that he can go to Ramallah or any other place in the territories and finalize things with Abbas, but that they are the ones setting the tone in regards to calm or escalation in the region.
“I think this was a one-time incident and I hope it will stay that way. The last time Obama was here he visited Sderot, but this time it’s not on his itinerary. I don’t think he knew sometimes and therefore decided not to come here.”
There are no Iron Dome batteries in the Sderot and Netivot area. several batteries have been deployed in the Ashdod and Ashkelon areas.
Heightened state of alert
President Obama, who held a lengthy meeting with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Wednesday, is expected to meet with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas on Thursday afternoon.
After visiting the Israel Museum, Obama will fly to Ramallah in his helicopter at around 10:45 and meet with Abbas at the Muqataa. After lunch, the two are expected to hold a joint press conference.
Defense establishment officials voiced their concerns over a Palestinian terror incident during the visit and the security organizations have been on a heightened state of alert in the past few days.
Obama landed in Israel on Air Force One at 12:10 am Wednesday. He was greeted by Netanyahu and President Shimon Peres, and following a military ceremony he said in Hebrew, “It’s good to be in Israel again.”
Immediately after his arrival, he was taken to see the Iron Dome rocket interception system, which guards Gaza vicinity communities. He met with IDF fighters and was briefed on the system. Later, during his visit to the President’s Residence, a child living in a Gaza vicinity community thanked him for the American funding of the Iron Dome.
During his previous visit to Israel, while he was running for US president, Obama visited the rocket-battered city of Sderot, where he met a child who was injured in a rocket attack and lost his leg.
The last rocket to hit southern Israel before Thursday occurred in late February, south of Ashkelon. The rocket remnants were located on a road south of the city, which sustained damage. There were no injuries in the incident.