Escalation in Israel’s South – Rocket Fire from the Gaza Strip Updated to 12:00 noon, May 11, 2021

Palestinian video of rocket fire from the Gaza Strip into Israeli territory (Twitter account of journalist Hassan Aslih, May 10, 2021).

Palestinian video of rocket fire from the Gaza Strip into Israeli territory (Twitter account of journalist Hassan Aslih, May 10, 2021).

Muslims on the Temple Mount celebrate the rocket fire from the Gaza Strip targeting Jerusalem (QudsN Facebook page, May 10, 2021).

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Rocket fire damage in Ashqelon (Palinfo Twitter account, May 11, 2021).

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Rocket fire damage in Ashqelon (Palinfo Twitter account, May 11, 2021).

Direct rocket hit on a house in Ashqelon (QudsN Facebook page, May 11, 2021).
Direct rocket hit on a house in Ashqelon (QudsN Facebook page, May 11, 2021).
Rocket fire damage in one of the Israeli communities near the Gaza Strip (QudsN Facebook page, May 10, 2021).

Rocket fire damage in one of the Israeli communities near the Gaza Strip (QudsN Facebook page, May 10, 2021).

Overview
  • The hostilities between Israel and the Palestinians in Jerusalem escalated to a new height on May 10, 2021, the day Israel celebrated Jerusalem Day. Hamas’ military-terrorist wing issued an ultimatum to Israel, calling for the removal of Israel’s security forces from the al-Aqsa mosque precinct and Sheikh Jarrah in east Jerusalem, and the release of all the Palestinian terrorists imprisoned in Israeli jails, by 18:00. When its conditions were not met, Hamas fired seven rockets at the Jerusalem region.
  • Another barrage of rockets was then fired at Israel’s southern coastal cities of Ashdod and Ashqelon. As of noon, May 11, 2021, more than 250 rockets had been fired from the Gaza Strip at Israel. Several buildings were damaged and 31 civilians were hospitalized. The IDF responded be attacking more than 130 Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) terrorist targets.
  • Since the tension began in Jerusalem, Hamas has systematically escalated its attacks. When the riots in east Jerusalem began Hamas initiated an intensive propaganda campaign inciting the Palestinians to violence against Israel. Muhammad Deif, the commander of Hamas’ military-terrorist wing, later issued a warning to Israel and an ultimatum, which led to massive rocket fire barrages.
  • While in recent years Hamas has been careful not to escalate the situation along the border, and one way or another maintained the lull understandings, apparently this time the organization decided to disregard the understandings and fire massive barrages of rockets at Israel, despite the fact it was clear the Gaza Strip would pay a high price. Apparently what caused the change was Hamas’ desire to represent itself as defending Jerusalem and al-Aqsa mosque to make political capital with the Palestinian public in Judea and Samaria. It might also have been caused by internal pressure on the Hamas leadership in the Gaza Strip from senior figures abroad to push for action against Israel, since they are less committed than the Gaza Strip leadership to the welfare of the Gazan population.
The Chain of Events
  • The escalation in hostilities between Israel and the Palestinians began on May 10, 2021, Jerusalem Day, when Israel celebrates the uniting of the city. During the morning thousands of Palestinians who had barricaded themselves inside al-Aqsa mosque rioted against Israeli police. About three hundred Palestinians were injured, seven of them seriously.
Rocket fire attacking Israel
  • The Palestinians’ opening shot was a barrage of rocket fire at exactly 18:00, when the ultimatum issued by Hamas’ military-terrorist wing ended. Seven rockets were fired in the general direction of Jerusalem and the surrounding area, one of which was intercepted by the Iron Dome aerial defense system. A number of close explosions were heard. A house in an Israeli community close to Jerusalem was damaged when a rocket fell nearby. The last time rockets were fired at the Jerusalem area was during Operation Protective Edge (July-August 2014). Hamas military-terrorist wing was quick to claim responsibility for the rocket fire. Usama Obeida, spokesman for the Izz al-Din Qassam Brigades, said the rocket fire targeted the “enemy of occupied Jerusalem,” a response to its alleged “crimes and aggression” against the Old City, and to the attacks on the residents of Sheikh Jarrah and al-Aqsa mosque. He also said the promise made by Muhammad Deif, commander of Hamas’ military-terrorist wing, would be kept.[1]
  • Later the military-terrorist wing announced the rockets were a new type called A120, which had range of 120 kilometers (about 75 miles) and the attack on Jerusalem was the first time they had been used (al-Aqsa, May 11, 2021).
Muslims on the Temple Mount celebrate the rocket fire from the Gaza Strip targeting Jerusalem (QudsN Facebook page, May 10, 2021).     Palestinian video of rocket fire from the Gaza Strip into Israeli territory (Twitter account of journalist Hassan Aslih, May 10, 2021).
Right: Palestinian video of rocket fire from the Gaza Strip into Israeli territory (Twitter account of journalist Hassan Aslih, May 10, 2021). Left: Muslims on the Temple Mount celebrate the rocket fire from the Gaza Strip targeting Jerusalem (QudsN Facebook page, May 10, 2021).
Rocket fire attacking the Israeli communities near the Gaza Strip border
  • Immediately after the rocket fire attacking Jerusalem barrages of rockets and mortar shells began attacking the Israeli communities near the Gaza Strip. The military-terrorist wings of Hamas, the Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ), the Popular Resistance Committees (PRC), Fatah in the Gaza Strip, and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) all claimed responsibility for the rocket fire (al-Aqsa, May 11, 2021). As of noon, May 11, 2021, more than 250 rockets had been fired, dozens of which were intercepted by the Iron Dome aerial defense system (IDF spokesman, May 11, 2021).
  • The joint operations room of the terrorist organizations in the Gaza Strip issued an announcement to the effect that after they had warned Israel, and the time had come for it “to pay for its aggression against the holy sites.” The announcement promised the Palestinians that the “resistance” [i.e., terrorist organizations] would not disappoint them and would serve as their shield and sword. A PRC spokesman said they were calling the operation “Sword of Jerusalem” (Shehab Twitter account, May 11, 2021).
  • Rockets were fired continually at Ashqelon and the communities near the Gaza Strip, continuing into May 11, 2021, when the range was extended to Ashdod, to the north of Ashqelon:
    • Ashqelon took several direct hits, and several buildings were damaged. Dozens of local residents were injured, four in one family. Later two local residents were killed by rocket fire.
Rocket fire damage in Ashqelon (Palinfo Twitter account, May 11, 2021).     Rocket fire damage in Ashqelon (Palinfo Twitter account, May 11, 2021).
Rocket fire damage in Ashqelon (Palinfo Twitter account, May 11, 2021).
Direct rocket hit on a house in Ashqelon (QudsN Facebook page, May 11, 2021).    Direct rocket hit on a house in Ashqelon (QudsN Facebook page, May 11, 2021).
Direct rocket hit on a house in Ashqelon (QudsN Facebook page, May 11, 2021).
    • In Sderot a house next to a synagogue was hit, and a rocket caused a fire in a newly-built section of the city.
    •  A local municipality was also directly hit. No casualties were reported (spokesman for the municipality’s media unit, May 11, 2021).
Rocket fire damage in one of the Israeli communities near the Gaza Strip (QudsN Facebook page, May 10, 2021).    Rocket fire damage in one of the Israeli communities near the Gaza Strip (QudsN Facebook page, May 10, 2021).
Rocket fire damage in one of the Israeli communities near the Gaza Strip (QudsN Facebook page, May 10, 2021).
Anti-tank missile fired at Israeli civilian vehicle near the Gaza Strip
  • A short time after the rocket fire targeting Jerusalem, a Kornet anti-tank missile was fired at a civilian Israeli vehicle near the Gaza Strip border. A civilian was wounded and evacuated to a hospital for medical care (IDF spokesman, May 10, 2021). The PIJ’s military-terrorist wing claimed responsibility for the missile fire, documenting and publishing it on its media outlets. PIJ spokesmen claimed the vehicle’s passengers were a military delegation headed by the head of intelligence for the IDF’s Gaza Division (PIJ military-terrorist wing Telegram account, May 11, 2021). The Filastin al-Yawm channel broadcast a video of the missile fire, claiming it came in response to the [alleged] “crimes at al-Aqsa mosque,” and that the vehicle belonged to “enemy commanders” (Filastin al-Yawm, May 10, 2021).
From a video issued by the PIJ's military-terrorist wing documenting the Kornet missile attack on an Israeli civilian vehicle (Twitter account of journalist Hassan Aslih, May 10, 2021).     From a video issued by the PIJ's military-terrorist wing documenting the Kornet missile attack on an Israeli civilian vehicle (Twitter account of journalist Hassan Aslih, May 10, 2021).
From a video issued by the PIJ’s military-terrorist wing documenting the Kornet missile attack on an Israeli civilian vehicle (Twitter account of journalist Hassan Aslih, May 10, 2021).
PIJ ultimatum for Israel
  • Around 21:00 on May 10, 2021, Abu Hamza, spokesman for the PIJ’s military-terrorist wing, announced that Tel Aviv and Ashqelon would be attacked at 21:00 (Abu Hamza’s Twitter account, May 10, 2021). In effect, at the designated time a large barrage of rockets attacked Ashqelon and the Israeli communities near the Gaza Strip.
Israeli casualties
  • As of 12 noon, May 11, 2021, 31 Israelis had been evacuated to Barzilai Hospital in Ashqelon. A man who had been critically wounded was transferred to the hospital in Beersheba. Another man was seriously wounded and 21 people were superficially wounded, with eight people treated for shock. Among those wounded were four members of the same family, and five children (Barzilai Hospital spokesman’s unit, May 11, 2021).
Israel’s Response
  • In response to the rocket fire the IDF attacked Hamas terrorist targets. Around midnight the IDF announced the launching of Operation Guardian of the Walls against the terrorist organizations in the Gaza Strip. The IDF attacked about 130 targets in the Gaza Strip in several waves (IDF spokesman, May 11, 2021). After an assessment of the situation the IDF’s recommendation to continue attacking was authorized (Israeli media, May 11, 2021).
  • With aircraft and tanks, the IDF attacked primarily Hamas and PIJ targets (IDF spokesman, May 10 and 11, 2021), including:
  • Senior military-terrorist wing operatives and their houses.

Hamas military-terrorist wing battalion commander's house (IDF spokesman, May 10, 2021).
Hamas military-terrorist wing battalion commander’s house (IDF spokesman, May 10, 2021).

  • Rocket launchers, rocket launching squads and a missile-launching squad.
  • Terrorist attack tunnels near the border security fence. Several terrorist operatives were inside one of the tunnels

Attack on a Hamas terrorist tunnel (IDF spokesman, May 10, 2021).
Attack on a Hamas terrorist tunnel (IDF spokesman, May 10, 2021).

  • A Hamas intelligence situation room in the southern Gaza Strip.
  • Sites for the manufacture of rockets and other weapons, and weapons storehouses.
  • Hamas and PIJ posts and training bases.
IDF attack on Gaza City (Wafa, May 11, 2021).    IDF attack on the Rimal neighborhood of Gaza City (Palinfo Twitter account, May 11, 2021).
Right: IDF attack on the Rimal neighborhood of Gaza City
(Palinfo Twitter account, May 11, 2021). Left: IDF attack on Gaza City (Wafa, May 11, 2021).
Attack on a site in the Tel al-Hawa neighborhood in Gaza City (Twitter account of journalist Hassan Aslih, May 11, 2021).    IDF attack on Hamas workshop in the Zeitoun neighborhood of Gaza City.
Right: IDF attack on Hamas workshop in the Zeitoun neighborhood of Gaza City. Left: Attack on a site in the Tel al-Hawa neighborhood in Gaza City
(Twitter account of journalist Hassan Aslih, May 11, 2021).
  • The ministry of health in Gaza claimed 24 Gazans were killed in the attacks, nine of them allegedly children, and 103 wounded (ministry of health in Gaza website, May 11, 2021).
  • Hamas’ ministry of the interior in Gaza called on the public not to gather at the entrances of the hospitals and ERs in order to allow for the continuous and rapid passage of emergency staff. In addition, the ministry warned the public not to touch undetonated ordinance which could explode and cause damage to life or property (ministry of the interior in Gaza Facebook page, May 11, 2021).
  • In response to the rocket fire the Israeli Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT) announced the closing of the Kerem Shalom Crossing, which is used for the delivery of merchandise. That followed the recent closing of the fishing zone and of the Erez Crossing, which is used for the passage of Gazans, with the individual exceptions of humanitarian and other special cases (COGAT spokesman’s unit website, May 9 and 10, 2021).
Hamas and the PIJ
  • As soon as the rocket fire began the Hamas media announced that Hamas was keeping its promise and that Muhammad Deif’s warning was being put into action. The headline of the Hamas newspaper al-Risalah read, “al-Qassam[2] keeps its promise.” Izz al-Din Qassam Brigades spokesman Abu Obeida threatened that if Israel attacked civilian installations or houses in the Gaza Strip the response would be strong and painful, and beyond what Israeli expected.
  • Isma’il Haniyeh, head of Hamas’ political bureau, said Jerusalem had set a new balance of power which could be seen in the political and public arenas and on the ground. He also said the connection between Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip was firm, and when Jerusalem called the Gaza Strip answered. He announced they would continue the struggle as long as Israel continued its [alleged] “displays of aggression and terrorism in Jerusalem and al-Aqsa mosque” (Shehab Twitter account, May 11, 2021). Abu Obeida sent the east Jerusalemites the message that they could be calm because the “resistance” was vigilant, stood behind them and had its finger on the trigger.
Palestinian Reactions
  • Mahmoud Abbas spoke with Ahmed Hilles, a member of Fatah’s Central Committee, and with Salah Abu Warda, governor of the Gaza Strip’s northern district, and with other senior figures in the Gaza Strip, to discuss recent developments (Wafa, May 11, 2021). Mahmoud Abbas ordered the flags lowered to half mast in mourning for the Gazans who had been killed. He cancelled Eid al-Fitr celebrations with the exception of religious observance (Shehab, May 10, 2021).
  • PA Prime Minister Muhammad Shtayyeh issued a demand to the UN Security Council for urgent intervention to stop “Israel’s aggression against the Gaza Strip and the Muslims in al-Aqsa mosque.” He called on the human rights organizations, especially those dealing with children, to condemn Israel, and ordered that all necessary equipment be provided to the hospitals in the Gaza Strip (Wafa, May 11, 2021).
  • Musheir al-Masri, spokesman for the Hamas faction in the Palestinian Legislative Council, who was interviewed while the rockets were being fired, said Israel had to pay a high price for its stupidity. He said al-Aqsa mosque would always be the fuse that lit the explosion, adding that the campaign was now only beginning, and all options were open (al-Aqsa, May 10, 2018).
  • Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum said Hamas was fully ready for a campaign in every location, and prepared to change the equation it had with Israel. Appealing to Hamas terrorist operatives, he said the zero hour had arrived and that anyone who had a weapon should be prepared to fight, including those whose only weapon was a knife or a rock. “Attack the settlers, attack the posts, attack the roadblocks and checkpoints” (al-Aqsa, May 10, 2021).
  • PIJ leader Ziyad al-Nakhalah claimed Israel had begun the “aggression” in Jerusalem and if Israel did not stop its “aggression” there was no point in trying to use political efforts to stop the rockets (Telegram channel of the PIJ’s military-terrorist wing, May 11, 2021).
  • Senior PIJ figure Muhammad al-Hindi said all the [terrorist] organizations wanted the uprising to turn into an intifada. He said Israel and the United States wanted calm but they were fooling themselves, and the Palestinians would make them miss their opportunity. He said that during the coming days various mediators would intervene to end the round of escalation, but the campaign was still ongoing (al-Mayadeen, May 10, 2021).
Al-Aqsa mosque is what unites the events in the Gaza Strip, the West Bank and Israeli Arabs. The Arabic reads, "Jerusalem unites..." (Palinfo Twitter account, May 11, 2021).    The "connection" between the Gaza Strip and Jerusalem (Alaa' al-Laqta's Facebook page, May 11 2021).
Right: The “connection” between the Gaza Strip and Jerusalem (Alaa’ al-Laqta’s Facebook page, May 11 2021). Left: Al-Aqsa mosque is what unites the events in the Gaza Strip, the West Bank and Israeli Arabs. The Arabic reads, “Jerusalem unites…” (Palinfo Twitter account, May 11, 2021).
Activities to Halt the Escalation
  • The UN Security Council met to discuss the situation. Apparently they did not reach a decision.
  • American spokesmen said the United States and President Biden were following the events and were very worried by the violence. They condemned the rocket attacks on Israel. They said they recognized Israel’s right to defend itself and that the Department of Defense would provide Israel with what it needed. They called on both sides to promote calm, noting that the United States’ position on Sheikh Jarrah had been made known to Israel (Politico, May 11, 2021).
  • Germany and Britain condemned the rocket fire attacking Israel, saying the violence in Jerusalem and Gaza had to stop and both sides had to prevent the situation from deteriorating, adding that rocket fire from the Gaza Strip against civilian targets had to stop (Twitter account of the British foreign minister, May 11, 2021).

[1] Given the tense situation in Jerusalem, as part of Hamas's attempts to increase the tension and incite the Palestinian public to acts of violence, Muhammed Deif, the commander of Hamas' military-terrorist wing, issued a (rare) formal announcement. He warned Israel that Hamas would not watch the events from the sidelines and Israel would pay a high price (website of Hamas' military-terrorist wing, May 4, 2021).
[2] The Izz al-Din Qassam Brigades, Hamas' military-terrorist wing.