At least four Qassam rockets were fired at southern Israel from Gaza Thursday morning on Day 2 of President Barack Obama’s visit to Israel. Obama was nowhere near the targeted towns of Sderot and Shaar Hanegev, but Israelis have no doubt the message was aimed at him.
At his press conference with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, Obama said, “We condemn this violation of this important ceasefire that protects both Israelis and Palestinians, a violation that Hamas has a responsibility to prevent.”
Abbas was earlier quoted by the official Palestinian news agency Wafa saying: “We condemn violence against civilians regardless of its source, including rocket firing.”
“We are in favor of maintaining mutual and comprehensive calm in Gaza,” Abbas added.
Israeli media report that one rocket landed in the backyard of a home in Sderot while another landed in an open field in Shaar Hanegev. No injuries were reported. Two additional rockets fell short and landed in Gaza near the border fence with Israel, according to the Times of Israel.
The attack came just hours before Obama was scheduled to travel to Ramallah to meet Abbas.
Sderot Mayor David Buskila says, “This morning’s rockets are a message from terror groups to Obama.”
“I think they are trying to tell him that he can make agreements with Abbas, but they set the tone,” he added.
Member of Knesset Orit Struck of the right-wing Jewish Home Party called it the “best publicity” that could have occurred during Obama’s visit. She says these kinds of attacks make it clear that Israel should not withdraw from Judea and Samaria, the West Bank. Struck is herself a Jewish settler and a mother of 11 living in the volatile Judean city of Hebron.
Notably, the first stop on Obama’s trip Wednesday was a visit with soldiers and officers serving on the U.S.-funded Iron Dome anti-missile defense system, where he posed for photographs like the one seen above with the soldiers. That battery had played a part in intercepting incoming missiles during the November hostilities, protecting Israeli communities near Gaza.
During Obama’s last trip to Israel in 2008 when he was running for president, he visited Sderot and even made comments in front of the collection of burned out rockets the police there save. In a 2011 speech, Obama described meeting with then 8-year-old Osher Tuito who lost part of a leg in a Qassam rocket attack. Obama said then:
When I went to Sderot and saw the daily struggle to survive in the eyes of an eight-year-old boy who lost his leg to a Hamas rocket, and when I walked among the Hall of Names at Yad Vashem, I was reminded of the existential fear of Israelis when a modern dictator seeks nuclear weapons and threatens to wipe Israel off the face of the map — face of the Earth.
On Friday, Obama is scheduled to visit the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial again.
Haaretz, quoting Israeli officials, reports that Israel is not expected to respond immediately to the firing of the rockets. “The Israeli response will come at the right time and the right place,” said one official.
“It is also interesting to see whether this rocket fire, launched from territory controlled by Hamas, will lead the Palestinian Authority chairman to cease his ongoing unification talks with Hamas, a terrorist organization calling for the destruction of Israel,” the official added.
This is the second time the fragile ceasefire with Gaza terror groups has been violated. That ceasefire was initially negotiated in November between Israel and Hamas with the mediation of Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi, under pressure from the Obama administration.
Last month, a Grad rocket was fired from Gaza to Ashkelon in southern Israel, the first rocket attack since the November hostilities, during which more than 1,500 rockets were launched by Palestinian terrorist groups into Israeli communities.
As of this writing, no terror group had yet claimed responsibility for Thursday’s attack.
This story has been updated to include reactions from Presidents Obama and Abbas.