Three people — two men and a woman — were killed and an 8-month-old baby was critically injured Thursday morning after a rocket blasted into a four-story building in Kiryat Malachi in southern Israel. Six people suffered from shock.
The names of the victims were cleared for publication late Thursday afternoon. Aharon Smadga, 49, Itzik Amsalem, 24, and Mira Sharf, 26 will all be buried Thursday evening. Sharf was reportedly pregnant.
As emergency services scrambled to rescue those still trapped inside the shattered structure, another five missiles were fired at the town. The Iron Dome missile defense system intercepted them before they landed.
Two salvos of rockets were fired at the coastal town of Ashdod earlier Thursday, with the Iron Dome anti-missile system intercepting some of the incoming rockets. However, one missile landed near a house in Ashdod slightly injuring three people. A chicken coop in Eshkol Region was also hit, causing damage but no injuries.
During the course of Thursday morning Israeli media reported several salvos of missiles, some of which penetrated the Iron Dome defenses. One missile was reported to have landed near Beersheba and another hit Kiryat Gat. Missiles were also fired at the port city of Ashkelon.
The Home Front command ordered residents in the areas under attack to remain in shelters until further notice.
The IDF Spokesman’s Office reported that seven terrorists were killed overnight in Israeli airstrikes across the Strip, as the army continued its day-old offensive against Gaza terror groups. Israel carried out strikes on more than 100 terror targets overnight, successfully hitting five rocket launching squads. The air force also distributed leaflets over Gaza warning residents to stay away from terrorist bases and weapons depots, stressing that civilians were not the targets of the strikes.
At least eight rockets were fired Thursday morning at Beersheba, which took the brunt of the 90 rockets Gaza hurled at Israel a day earlier following the assassination of Hamas military commander Ahmed Jabari. Five of the eight rockets were shot down by the Iron Dome anti-missile defense system, which is programmed to intercept rockets heading towards populated areas. The rest fell in open areas, causing no injuries or damage.
Iron Dome also intercepted rockets fired toward Ashdod and Ashkelon.
Four mortar shells landed in the Eshkol region. No injuries were reported.
The assassination of Jabari Wednesday afternoon marked the beginning of Operation Pillar of Defense, which Israeli leaders have warned could widen as they attempt to break Hamas’s ability to fire rockets into Israel.
On Thursday morning, Israel targeted a motorcycle carrying a rocket squad, killing three terrorists.
Tank shells and naval gunfire have backed up the air onslaught. Few in the territory’s largest urban area, Gaza City, heeded the call for dawn prayers, and the only vehicles plying the streets were ambulances and media cars.
In Israel, the rocket fire continued into the dead of the night, with rockets falling around Beersheba, Ashdod, Sderot and other towns in Israel’s south. The fire ceased temporarily around 4 a.m. Thursday, resuming just after 6 a.m.
The Iron Dome anti-missile defense system has so far downed some 50 rockets over Beersheba and towns surrounding the Gaza Strip. In all, about 110 rockets were launched by Palestinian terrorist groups in the Gaza Strip Wednesday evening, including dozens of long-range Grad rockets that were fired at Beersheba.
Three of the rockets Wednesday night fell in the vicinity of Dimona in the central Negev, which is located some 70 kilometers from the Gaza Strip. According to foreign sources, the Dimona nuclear research facility is a focal point of Israel’s nuclear weapons program.
A factory in Ashkelon suffered a direct hit, causing damage, but no injuries.
One rocket scored a direct hit on a store in Beersheba, slightly injuring one woman. Another slammed into a car, setting it ablaze, and there were reports of damage to several buildings.
Residents within range of rocket fire from Gaza were requested to remain within 15 seconds of a shelter. School was called off on Thursday throughout the south, including in Beersheba, Ashdod and Ashkelon. Residents in the towns immediately surrounding Gaza were instructed to take the day off work. The police raised alert levels across the country amid fears of terror attacks.
According to Channel 2 military correspondent Ronnie Daniel, some of the IAF strikes in Gaza were preemptive, targeting silos of Fajr missiles with a 70-kilometer range that could hit Tel Aviv. Pundits compared the strikes on the most potent Hamas missiles to the first day of the 2006 Second Lebanon War, when Israel took out Hezbollah’s longer-range missile sites.
In response to Jabari’s death, Hamas’s military wing, the Izz al-Din al-Qassam Brigades, had proclaimed that the “occupation opened the gates of hell on itself.”
Jabari was credited with being one of the leaders of Hamas’s violent putsch to take control of the Gaza Strip in 2007, and masterminded the professionalization of the organization’s military.
Israel attempted to kill Jabari in an airstrike in 2004, but ended up killing his eldest son, his brother, and several cousins instead.
Jabari was the most senior Hamas official to be killed since Operation Cast Lead four years ago. Jabari has long topped Israel’s most-wanted list and was notorious in Israel, which blamed him for a string of attacks, including the terror infiltration which saw the capture of soldier Gilad Shalit in 2006.
Despite being a stickler for personal security, Jabari personally escorted Shalit in the 2011 handover to Egyptian authorities, who then released him to Israel after five years in captivity. Video footage from the handoff showed the Hamas leader standing behind Shalit.
Hamas’s West Bank branch called on all Palestinians to hold protest demonstrations against the “Zionist aggression against the residents of Gaza.”
Israel has repeatedly stated that it holds Hamas responsible for all attacks on its territory from the Gaza Strip, including those carried out by other terror factions.