Palestinian terrorists in Gaza continued their rocket assault on Israel Wednesday afternoon after a three-hour pause in the attacks, which have seen dozens of missiles target the south in the past two days. More than 80 rockets and shells had been fired into Israel Wednesday by late afternoon.
Israeli leaders warned of a much intensified military response if the attacks continued. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu spoke of “a more extensive” response. Education Minister Gideon Sa’ar said the army was ready for “a far, far greater and wider response.” Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman said Israel would not maintain its restraint for many more days, and that Israel was “facing a serious escalation.”
A salvo of eight rockets fell on Hof Ashkelon just after midday, shattering the quiet that had descended for a few hours after a series of rocket attacks in the morning. Another two projectiles were fired at the Hevel Eshkol area. In late afternoon, another missile strike was recorded. There were no reports of injury or damage in the latest attacks.
Three foreign workers were injured, two of them seriously, in Wednesday morning attacks when a rocket hit the chicken coop they were working in, and several houses were damaged by other missiles. At least two other people were reported lightly injured in the strikes. Some of those hurt in the attacks were flown by helicopter to Soroka Medical Center in Beersheba.
School was cancelled in areas close to Gaza on Wednesday, and residents were told to remain within 15 seconds of “secure rooms” in case of further attacks.
Netanyahu, on a tour of the Iron Dome missile defense facility near the coastal town of Ashkelon, said, “It was not Israel that initiated this escalation, but if it goes on we are prepared to take far more extensive action.” Those who fire on Israel, he said, should know that “they have sealed their own fate.”
He also promised to fortify every building in communities 4.5 to 7 kilometers from the Strip, where until now only educational facilities had been protected.
Defense Minister Ehud Barak, speaking to Army Radio, said, “There are about 1,700 households that need fortification, but that said, the situation was a lot more difficult in the past because there was no Iron Dome.”
On Wednesday morning, Iron Dome intercepted seven Grads fired at Ashkelon. In the afternoon the system stopped another missile fired at the city.
France sharply condemned the rocket fire on Israel, urging restraint from both sides.
Since Tuesday afternoon Palestinian terror groups in the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip have fired dozens of rockets and mortar shells at southern Israel. The incoming missiles were a mix of Gaza-produced Kassam missiles and military-grade Grad rockets that have a longer range and larger warhead.
The IDF has responded to the barrages by targeting terror cells and Hamas installations in the Gaza Strip. Three Palestinians were killed in overnight airstrikes.
IDF Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Benny Gantz called a meeting Tuesday to assess the situation and toured some of the sites that were hit in attacks.
Barak said he could not rule out a ground invasion if fire continued. “If we need a ground operation there will be a ground operation. We will do whatever necessary to stop this wave” of violence, he told Army Radio on Wednesday.
“It’s important for the government to think before it decides. This move will bring escalation and not peace — there is no way to reconcile with the terror from Gaza. We are considering everything we need and examining everything. If there will be no choice and the fire continues, they will be struck hard, nothing is impossible,” he said.
Liberman said Israel was facing “a serious escalation” in the south. Speaking before a meeting with visiting EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, he said the situation was “unacceptable” and that Israel would “not suffer” the ongoing rocket fire for much longer.