Netanyahu cancels AIPAC address, returns home after Tel Aviv rocket attack

Netanyahu cancels AIPAC address, returns home after Tel Aviv rocket attack
Netanyahu, who was visiting Washington for meetings with US President Donald Trump, was made to cancel a much-anticipated address to pro-Israel lobby AIPAC's annual conference on Tuesday.

3 min read
25 March, 2019
The Israeli PM was forced to cancel a much-anticipated address at the AIPAC conference [Getty]

Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu was forced to cut short a Washington trip after a rocket from Gaza hit a house in a rare strike north of Tel Aviv on Monday.

The PM, who was visiting Washington for meetings with US President Donald Trump, was also made to cancel a much-anticipated address to pro-Israel lobby AIPAC's annual conference on Tuesday.

Netanyahu returned on Monday while vowing a forceful response to the strike that came at a highly sensitive time just ahead of Israel's April 9 elections.

Netanyahu said "there has been a criminal attack on the state of Israel and we will respond with force."

"I will meet President Trump in a few hours and just after that I will return to Israel to lead closely the operations," he said in a video released by his office.

Israel's army said the rocket was fired by Hamas, the Islamist movement that runs the Gaza Strip, from the Rafah area in the south of the enclave.

It announced it was sending two additional brigades to reinforce the Gaza area and said it was carrying out a limited call up of reservists.

Israel also closed its people and goods crossings with the blockaded Gaza Strip and reduced the zone in the Mediterranean it allows for Palestinian fishermen off the enclave, a statement said.

The house hit was located in the community of Mishmeret, around 20 kilometres (12 miles) north of Tel Aviv, police said.

The rocket would have had to travel some 120 kilometres (75 miles) from Rafah to hit the house in the community of Mishmeret.

Rocket fire from Gaza at that distance is rare.

Police spokesman Ami Ben David said air raid sirens wailed at around 5:15 am and the home's residents made their way to a safe room, possibly saving their lives.

The rocket crashed through the roof and then exploded when it hit the floor, he said. 

There was no immediate response from Hamas but its ally in Gaza, Islamic Jihad, said "we warn the Zionist enemy from committing an aggression against the Gaza Strip".

"Their leaders should be aware that we will respond with force against their aggression," it said, without commenting on who may have been responsible for the rocket.

The rocket comes after mounting tensions in recent weeks.

Netanyahu is believed by many analysts to want to avoid another war in the Gaza Strip -- the fourth since 2008 -- with unpredictable results ahead of the elections.

But he faces a tough challenge from a centrist political alliance led by former military chief Benny Gantz and he was already coming under heavy political pressure to react firmly.

Gantz asked on Twitter, in a reference to corruption allegations against Netanyahu, whether the prime minister would "finally focus on the security of the citizens of Israelinstead of dealing only with his legal concerns."

Monday's rocket comes just days ahead of the first anniversary on March 30 of Palestinian protests and clashes along the Gaza Strip's border with Israel.

An informal truce between Hamas and Israel had led to relative calm along the border, but recent weeks have seen another uptick in violence.

Netanyahu's visit to the United States was expected to include Trump's formal recognition of Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights, which it seized from Syria in the 1967 Six-Day War.

Breaking with longstanding international consensus, Trump said last week that the United States should recognise Israeli sovereignty there.

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