Envoys for international bodies highlight mortar shell that fell outside kindergarten; UN urges restraint by ‘all parties’
Representatives from the European Union and United Nations on Tuesday condemned the firing of more than two dozen mortar shells from the Gaza Strip at southern Israel, both calling it “unacceptable.”
The EU’s ambassador to Israel, Emanuele Giaufret, as well as the UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, Nickolay Mladenov, both focused on one of the shells striking a tree in the yard of a kindergarten in the Eshkol region, less than an hour before students were due to arrive.
“As kids were preparing for school this morning a barrage of rockets from Gaza fell on southern Israel,” the EU envoy tweeted. “One landed outside a kindergarten. I know the resilience of communities in southern Israel but indiscriminate attacks are totally unacceptable and to be condemned unreservedly.”
Mladenov said in a statement that he was “deeply concerned by the indiscriminate firing of rockets by Palestinian militants from Gaza towards communities in Southern Israel, at least one of which hit in the immediate vicinity of a kindergarten and could have killed or injured children.”
“Such attacks are unacceptable and undermine the serious efforts by the international community to improve the situation in Gaza,” the UN envoy added. “All parties must exercise restraint, avoid escalation and prevent incidents that jeopardize the lives of Palestinians and Israelis.”
The kindergarten that was hit by a mortar shell — along with all other schools in the area — opened as usual on Tuesday, despite the attack.
“At this point, there are no special instructions for residents of the Gaza periphery. Please continue to listen to the instructions of the Home Front Command,” the army said in a statement.
The attack, which triggered three rounds of sirens in as many hours in the Sha’ar Hanegev and Eshkol regions, was claimed by the Iranian-backed Palestinian Islamic Jihad terror group, apparently as revenge for the IDF killing three of its members in a cross-border exchange earlier in the week.
It appeared to be the largest attack from the Gaza Strip, in terms of the number of projectiles fired, since the 2014 war, known in Israel as Operation Protective Edge.
Most of the projectiles were intercepted by the Iron Dome missile defense system. One person was lightly injured.
The initial, larger bombardment came at 7 a.m., when approximately 25 mortar shells were fired toward the Sha’ar Hanegev and Eshkol regions, the army said.
Exactly an hour later, incoming sirens were triggered for a second time in the Eshkol region, but not in Sha’ar Hanegev, as at least two mortar shells struck an open field in the area, the army said.
The second attack caused neither injuries nor damage.
Sirens in southern Israel were triggered by a mortar shell for a third time shortly after 9:30 a.m., the army said.
That projectile struck an open field outside a community in the Eshkol region, causing no injury or damage, local officials said.
The military responded to the early morning attack by shelling a number of positions belonging to terrorist groups in the Gaza Strip, Palestinian media reported. The army would not immediately confirm it had conducted retaliatory strikes. Additional reprisal raids were expected, in accordance with Israel’s standard policies regarding attacks from Gaza.
Pictures and videos were quickly shared on social media apparently showing the launches of the mortar shells and the interceptions by the Iron Dome.
In the latest round of violence, unlike previous ones, Gazan terrorists had until Tuesday generally refrained from shooting rockets, instead using small arms fire directed at troops, planting bombs, flying incendiary kites, and sneaking across the border to cause minor damage.
Since March 30, tens of thousands of Palestinians have taken part in weekly protests that Israel says are orchestrated by Hamas and used as cover for attempted terror attacks and breaches of the border fence.
The violent demonstrations were meant to end on May 15, but Hamas leaders have said they want them to continue. Over 10,000 Gazans took part in the demonstrations in the course of Friday and Saturday, the army said.
The demonstrations came to a head on May 14 when the US moved its embassy to Jerusalem and at least 60 Palestinians were killed in clashes — almost all of them Hamas members, the terror group has acknowledged.
Judah Ari Gross and Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.