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Israel mobilizes after Gaza rocket attack, escalation looms

/ 06:06 PM March 25, 2019

A police officer inspects the damage to a house hit by a rocket in Mishmeret, central Israel, Monday, March 25, 2019. An early morning rocket from the Gaza Strip struck a house in central Israel on Monday, wounding six people, including one moderately, an Israeli rescue service said, in an eruption of violence that could set off another round of violence shortly before the Israeli election. (AP Photo/Ariel Schalit)

KFAR SABA, Israel — An early morning rocket fired from the Gaza Strip demolished a house in central Israel on Monday, wounding seven people and prompting Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to cut short a trip to Washington.

The military quickly mobilized troops and called up reserves, setting the stage for a potential major conflagration shortly before Israel’s upcoming elections.

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The rocket destroyed a residential home in the farming community of Mishmeret, north of the city of Kfar Saba, wounding six members of a family.

The Magen David Adom rescue service said it treated seven people overall, including two women who were moderately wounded.

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The others, including two children and an infant, had minor wounds.

The sounds of air raid sirens jolted residents of the Sharon area, northeast of Tel Aviv, from their sleep shortly after 5 a.m., sending them scurrying to bomb shelters. A strong sound of an explosion followed.

The Israeli military said militants from Gaza’s ruling Hamas movement fired the rocket from one of their launching pads in southern Gaza Strip, near Rafah.

Maj. Mika Lifshitz, a military spokeswoman, said it was a self-manufactured rocket with a range of 120 kilometers (75 miles).

She added that two armor and infantry brigades were being mobilized to the Gaza front and that a limited drafting of reserves was also taking place.

The family home in Mishmeret was left in ruins, with tiles, broken furniture and debris scattered about. A shattered baby’s crib lay among the rubble and two family dogs died in the explosion.

“It’s a miracle that nobody got killed,” said Assi Dvilanski, a Magen David Adom paramedic who was one of the first responders at the scene.

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Netanyahu, in Washington to meet President Donald Trump, held emergency consultations with military officials back in Israel and decided to cut his visit short, cancelling a planned address to the AIPAC conference and meetings with congressional leaders.

“There has been a criminal attack on the State of Israel and we will respond forcefully,” he said. “In a few hours I will meet with President Trump. I will return to Israel immediately afterward.”

Anticipating a strong Israeli response, Gaza’s Hamas leaders have apparently gone underground.

Witnesses reported seeing Hamas evacuating its personnel from government premises. Hamas also announced that its Gaza chief, Yehiya Sinwar, had cancelled a scheduled public speech.

Israel also shut down its main crossings into Gaza and imposed restrictions on fishing off the Gazan coast. /gsg

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TAGS: escalation, fighting, Gaza, Israel
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