Palestinian terrorists in the Gaza Strip fired more than 30 rockets and mortars — with some Israeli media outlets reporting over 50 rockets — into southern Israel early Monday morning, causing damage to a residential building.
Most of the shells landed in open areas and there were no injuries reported. However, one of the rockets landed in a petting zoo in the Eshkol region, killing two goats and wounding nine other goats.
Unusually, Hamas claimed responsibility for some of the attacks, and said it would hit back at Israel whenever Israel strikes at targets in Gaza. The IAF hit two terrorists in an air strike on Sunday, killing one of them and badly wounding the other.
Channel 10 quoted a military official in the Southern Command as saying that the firing of such large numbers of rockets was made possible by the use of sophisticated launchers capable of shooting several rockets at once. According to the report, the launchers were remotely operated, allowing the terrorists to remain hidden from the Israeli military’s sight.
Residents of the Eshkol Regional Council were instructed to remain in their safe rooms or shelters. After several hours, the IDF said the area’s residents could leave their shelters, but advised they should remain 15 seconds away from a secure area.
The latest exchange of fire between Israel and the Gaza Strip, according to some officials the most serious flare-up in months along that border, came after an Israeli Air Force strike in the Gaza Strip targeted a motorcycle bearing what the IDF said were two Palestinian terrorists, badly injuring both of them. One of the two, Abdullah Muhammad Hassan Maqawi, subsequently died of his injuries. Maan News cited Hamas officials in the Gaza Strip saying that a total of 11 Palestinians were injured in the air strike, including five minors.
In response, terrorists belonging to the Islamist group Hamas that rules Gaza and a smaller hardline offshoot, Islamic Jihad, fired some 30 rockets toward Israel’s southern border on Monday morning, causing some property damage but no casualties, according to an Israeli military spokeswoman.
Gaza’s interior ministry said Israel’s military launched around 20 tank shells and an airstrike in response later Monday, mostly toward targets around the southern Gaza city of Khan Younis.
Palestinian health official Ashraf al-Kidra said five people were injured after a strike near a mosque. Another mosque was targeted nearby and a factory was targeted east of Gaza City, according to the interior ministry.
The Israeli military spokeswoman said the houses of worship were used as “Hamas posts” but did not offer more information.
Fearing further attacks, Hamas security officials evacuated their compounds, according to an official who spoke on condition of anonymity.
Hamas and Islamic Jihad’s military branches claimed joint responsibility for the attacks on Israel. Hamas’s Izz al-Din al-Qassam Brigades and Islamic Jihad’s al-Quds Brigades stated that the mortars and rockets were fired “in response to the Zionist crimes last night that caused the wounding of 11 civilians, among them two children.”
Hamas has not accepted responsibility for rocket fire from the Gaza Strip since June, when 25 rockets were fired at communities in southern Israel. Hamas has governed the Gaza Strip since forcefully taking it over in 2007.
Hamas’ spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri said the group on Monday fired rockets back to show Israel that it could not operate freely in Gaza. “We have the right to defend ourselves,” Zuhri said.
Al-Qassam Brigade spokesman Abu Obeida warned that “persistent aggression on the Gaza Strip will bring stronger response by the Palestinian resistance factions.”
Obeida added that the joint Hamas-Islamic Jihad rocket fire “emphasizes a high-level of coordination between the resistance factions in the management of the confrontation with the Zionist occupation.”
Hamas has not confirmed the identity of the two men targeted Sunday. The Israeli military said the two were members of an al-Qaida-inspired group identified as having been involved in previous rocket attacks and an infiltration from Egypt.
The IDF identified the two men as 23-year-old Tala’at Halil Muhammad Jarbi, a Global Jihad operative from Rafah, and 24-year-old Maqawi, a member of the Mujahideen Shura Council of Jerusalem, a Gaza-based Global Jihad affiliate.
The army charged that Jarbi was “a senior operative involved in the planning and execution” of the June 18 terrorist attack on the Israel-Egypt border in which an Israeli father-of-four was killed as he worked to build the border fence, and that Tala’at was plotting another attack.
Gaza-based terrorists have fired over 500 rockets and mortars at nearby Israeli towns and kibbutzim since the beginning of 2012.