Rocket Slams into Southern Israel First Time Since November Fight with Hamas

Investigators stand next to remnants of Grad rocket fired into Ashkelon, Israel Tuesday morning (Screen shot of Israel Channel 10 via Times of Israel)

A Grad rocket was fired from Gaza at southern Israel Tuesday morning, the first rocket attack since the November hostilities between Israel and Hamas. Then, more than 1,500 rockets were launched by Palestinian terrorist groups into Israeli communities.

Israeli media reported that the rocket landed on a road south of Ashkelon at 7:00am, during the morning commute and when children are making their way to school.

Israel Police Spokesman Micky Rosenfeld says, “An explosion was heard in the Ashkelon region. Experts searched areas and found one rocket that struck, damaging a road but causing no injuries.”

The Times of Israel quotes residents who said they heard two blasts, though authorities could find the remnants of only one rocket.

The Israel Defense Forces are investigating why the air raid siren was not automatically activated as a result of the incoming projectile.

For now, Israeli security officials are regarding the incident as an anomaly and thus decided to keep schools in the area open.

The Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades claimed responsibility for the rocket attack. In a statement, it said this was a response to the death of Palestinian prisoner Arafat Jaradat, who died in Israeli custody over the weekend.

The statement said, “Freedom will be achieved through sacrifice. We must fight the enemy with all means necessary. The resistance will continue.”

On Monday, hundreds of Palestinians demonstrated to protest 30-year-old Jadarat’s death. On Saturday, an Israel Prison Services spokeswoman said that he died of a heart attack. But the Palestinian Authority’s Minister of Detainee Affairs said an autopsy showed Jadarat died after being tortured in custody.

Rocket Slams into Southern Israel First Time Since November Fight with Hamas

Palestinian policemen carry the body of Arafat Jaradat during his funeral on Monday in the village of Saair in the West Bank. (Photo: Uriel Sinai/Getty Images)

Thousands attended the funeral for prisoner Jaradat, who was buried with military honors on Monday. During the funeral procession, Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades militants fired rounds in the air. The group is aligned with Fatah and is considered a terrorist group by the United States.

The UN’s coordinator for the Middle East peace process, Robert Serry, called for “an independent and transparent investigation into the circumstances of Mr. Jaradat’s death, the results of which should be made public as soon as possible”.

“The United Nations is closely monitoring the situation on the ground where mounting tensions present a real risk of destabilization,” Serry added, in a statement quoted by the Palestinian News Agency Maan.

Elsewhere on Monday, almost a dozen Palestinians were injured in clashes outside Ofer Prison – the site of regular protests – near Ramallah.

Maan quoted an IDF spokesman who said, “500 rioters hurled rocks, firebombs and burning tires at Israeli forces, who responded with riot dispersal means,” adding that six were hit by rubber-coated bullets.

In the Bethlehem area, a 13-year-old was shot in the back and foot and is now in serious but stable condition, according to Maan.

Ynet reported that an Israeli soldier was lightly wounded by stones that Palestinians threw at him in Gush Etzion, a bloc of Jewish settlements between Jerusalem and Bethlehem.

After the outbreak of clashes on Monday afternoon, the U.S. Consulate in Jerusalem issued a security message for U.S. citizens in the area advising them to avoid non-essential travel to the West Bank and “to exercise an extra measure of caution during this period.”

“The U.S. Consulate General takes this opportunity to remind U.S. citizens that demonstrations, even peaceful ones, can turn violent with little or no warning. U.S. citizens should be aware of their surroundings at all times, and avoid large crowds,” the consulate statement said.

The escalation in Palestinian demonstrations has sparked analyses among Israeli and Palestinian officials to try to determine if this is the mark of a new intifada, or uprising. Experts have asked in recent days: Is the violence being orchestrated by the Palestinian Authority? Is the objective geared toward getting the Palestinian issue at the forefront of the diplomatic agenda, particularly in these weeks leading up to President Barack Obama’s visit to the region?

With the mediation of the U.S. and Egypt, Hamas and Israel agreed to a ceasefire three months ago at the end of Operation Pillar of Defense.