TEL AVIV – Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu cut his trip to the United States short on Monday after a rocket fired from Gaza hit a private home in central Israel earlier that day, injuring seven people, including an infant.
“This was a criminal attack on Israel and we will respond forcefully,” Netanyahu said from Washington.
He said he would return to Israel “to oversee our response first-hand” after he meets with President Donald Trump on Monday morning local time. The meeting, which will take place at the White House, is expected to include the signing of an order by Trump recognizing Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights.
Netanyahu’s address to the annual AIPAC conference will be cancelled as will the dinner he was due to attend Tuesday evening at the White House.
The attack, which leveled a home in the community of Mishmeret, was the third long-range rocket fired from Gaza in two weeks. As with the other two rockets, Hamas said Monday’s rocket was fired by mistake.
The J-80 rocket, which had a range of 120 km (75 miles), was fired from a Hamas launchpad in the southern Gaza town of Rafah, IDF Spokesperson Ronen Manelis said. It was the farthest distance covered by a Gaza-launched rocket since 2014’s summer conflict.
📷View from inside the house in central Israel which was directly hit by a rocket fired from #Gaza this morning.
The bedroom was severely damaged. Two young children are among those injured as a result of rocket's explosion.
(Photo: Kobi Tamam – Fire & Rescue Dept) pic.twitter.com/GBvb4cZm37
— Israel Foreign Ministry (@IsraelMFA) March 25, 2019
Hamas operatives abandoned their posts throughout Gaza in anticipation of an Israeli response.
The IDF did not directly comment on the Iron Dome’s failure to intercept the rocket, but seemed to suggest it was because the missile defense battery was not deployed in the area that the rocket struck.
The army deployed two additional brigades to the Gaza border area comprising 1,000 troops as well as reservists for air defense units.
Both crossings into the coastal enclave were closed.
The rocket caused the building to catch fire, burning the structure to the ground. Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon visited the home that was struck and said that the father of the family that had been wounded credited the bomb shelter with saving their lives.
“This is what the father of the family said … it is a message to all the residents of Israel, as soon as you hear an alarm — go to the bomb shelter. I do not wish anyone to go through such an event, but if there is an alarm, do not be lazy and go to the bomb shelter,” Kahlon said.
A 59-year-old woman was moderately injured in the attack from blast injuries including burns and shrapnel wounds. A 30-year-old woman was also moderately wounded from shrapnel. A 30-year-old man, a 60-year-old man, 12-year-old girl, three-year-old boy and 18-month-old baby all sustained light injuries. Four dogs were killed in the blast.
— Israel Defense Forces (@IDF) March 25, 2019
Netanyahu’s decision to return to Israel came after a barrage of condemnation from his election rivals calling on him to respond to the attack.
Blue and White party leader Benny Gantz called on Netanyahu to return to Israel without delay and respond to the attack with “aggression.”
“Netanyahu has lost his grip on security and Israeli citizens are again facing sirens and a direct hit on a house, this time in the Sharon [region],” Gantz said in a statement.
“This is bankruptcy when it comes to security, and Netanyahu needs to pack up immediately and go back to Israel to deal with this serious escalation,” Gantz said. “Will he still be satisfied with Hamas’s announcement of a mistake or will he finally concentrate on the security of the country’s citizens and not on his legal troubles? Someone who doesn’t respond aggressively and forcefully, and pays protection money to Hamas, will get rockets on the Sharon.”