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A night of fire on the Gaza border

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ILANIT CHERNICK

Army vehicles, tanks, artillery, and armoured personnel carriers were all over. Trucks carrying and transporting such vehicles were seen on almost every corner, and then there were the fields. The fields just lined with tanks and Israel Defense Forces (IDF) equipment on both sides of several long stretches of road.

A siren wailed in the distance signalling that somewhere, a rocket was raining down. Families were running into their safe room or bomb shelter, or maybe they were even sleeping inside already.

In 24 hours, Hamas and the Gaza factions had shot more than 100 rockets into Israel. The cat and mouse game was on. Tit for tat, and there was no sign it was going to ease up.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu cut his trip to the United States short after a long-range rocket hit a home on a moshav in central Israel. The moshav, Mishmeret, is located close to the city of Kfar Saba. Seven people, including two toddlers were injured. This act is what started all of this. Hamas claimed it was a “mistake”. The third such “mistake” since October 2018.

But it was more than that. Just more than two weeks ago, rocket sirens wailed in Tel Aviv prompting its residents to dash for their bomb shelters.

The question on everyone’s lips is, “How do you mistakenly fire long-range rockets so accurately towards some of the country’s biggest cities?”

A Hamas official told Israel Hayom that it was, in fact, Iran which had ordered the strike, and Hamas had agreed because it hoped it would play a role in toppling Netanyahu in the 9 April elections.

My colleague and I chatted about this in the car as we drove down. The hour was a little after 23:00, and we knew we would be in for a long and difficult night.

For the past year, tensions have been building as Gaza’s Great March of Return continues, ever so violent and threatening on a weekly basis with incendiary balloons, balloons carrying IEDs and explosives, kite terror, and numerous flare-ups of rocket attacks. The recent two-day flare up was no different.

It was quiet, hardly any cars on the road, and time after time, we spotted military vehicles and such.

We made it to our usual spot. In the past 21 months, I have been to this spot four times. It’s usually buzzing with journalists and onlookers.

But on Tuesday night, it was eerily quiet. There were no reporters and the continued hullabaloo of rocket fire and Iron Dome interceptions that I’m so used to witnessing in this spot was nowhere to be seen.

Loud booms could be heard in the far distance. I wasn’t sure if it was Hamas’ so called “night confusion units” throwing IEDs at soldiers and at the security fence, or if it could be that Israel was retaliating for a rocket attack on Ashkelon, which had happened just prior to departure from Jerusalem.

It turned out to be the latter. The booms were loud, the drones hummed in the sky, and the F-16s were heard rushing to and from the scene. A helicopter buzzed above me.

The sound of a mortar exploding just south of where I was standing jolted me. There was no siren, something I’m not used to.

I stood and waited. I listened. More explosions, then a failed launch of a rocket echoed through Gaza, the explosion loudly making its way to where I stood.

Another rocket was heard exploding. This time close to the Kerem Shalom crossing. Again, there was no siren because the censors were able to detect that it would fall short or into an open area.

By 03:30, a strange chant coming from the many mosques across Gaza was heard, making the atmosphere even more creepy. In the background more booms were heard, and the words “Allah Akbar” were repeated through the loudspeakers.

I checked with several friends to see if it was possibly the call to prayer, and all said it would be at least an hour or two until then, with one saying it could be prayer calling for solidarity as strikes continued.

As the cold began to seep through into my bones, I ran to the car for just a minute to warm up. The eerie atmosphere still irking me.

As I closed the door, my phone buzzed, and a siren began to wail. A rocket was being launched at Ashkelon again. The whoosh of the Iron Dome interceptors springing into action awakened my adrenaline and fear.

The rockets looked like distorted shooting stars, moving fast towards Ashkelon, but the Iron Dome was too quick, and the loud bangs reverberated through the night sky as the rockets fell to pieces before arriving at its targets.

A third explosion made the ground beneath me shake, and I looked at my colleague who too was taken by surprise.

Drones and helicopters could still be heard loud and clear as day broke, contrasting with the beauty that met our eyes as the sun rose over the lush green plains of the south.

Israel had decided not to retaliate to the second rocket fired at Ashkelon overnight. With the sunrise came the decision to take a closer look at what was happening in the fields in which tanks and armoured vehicles and artillery were being placed.

Row after row of tanks were seen on one side of the road, clearly visible. The other set of military vehicles and tanks were more hidden away. Again, it was strange seeing all of this contrasted against the beautiful greenery and flowers dotting the landscape.

My colleague and I pondered about the possibility of an operation, and whether it would happen before or after the elections. We wondered if this was a bluff, a precaution, a possibility of war, or even if all this was just preparation for Saturday’s first anniversary of The Great March of Return, which Hamas has promised will be full of surprises.

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