Southern Israel came under a barrage of rocket fire from Gaza Saturday night, in a cross-border escalation following an earlier terrorist attack that injured four soldiers. Israel carried out counter-strikes, killing five Palestinians and wounding 30.
More than 30 rockets — eight of them long-range — were fired into Israel. There were no immediate reports of injuries in the rocket fire, although a woman in Ashdod broke her leg running to a safe area as a rocket alarm sounded. A car took a direct hit in a town in the Sha’ar Hanegev region adjacent to the Gaza Strip.
Schools were ordered closed Sunday in the town of Gan Yavne. Commercial traffic through the Kerem Shalom crossing from Israel into Gaza was also canceled.
Rockets fell in the Hof Ashkelon and Eshkol regions, with at least one rocket reported to have landed near a kibbutz. One rocket hit a power line in a town in the Eshkol region, causing local power outages.
Alarms also sounded in the Ashdod and Ashkelon areas. The Iron Dome missile defense system shot down three rockets heading toward residential areas in Ashdod and Ashkelon.
Residents of communities adjacent to the Gaza Strip were told to remain within 15 seconds of sealed rooms or other safe areas.
Defense Minister Ehud Barak said the IDF had responded severely to the terrorist fire and will consider additional responses in the upcoming days.
“We will not let such border incidents go unanswered,” said Barak.
The IDF reported that it targeted and hit a rocket-launching squad in the northern Gaza Strip just after the squad had fired rockets. The spokesperson’s unit did not report on casualties. Palestinian sources said one member of the squad was killed and one was injured; they said the crew were likely from Islamic Jihad.
Palestinian media reported that Islamic Jihad’s military wing, the al-Quds Brigades, claimed responsibility for the majority of the rockets fired at southern Israel, while the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine’s Abu Ali Mustafa Brigade and various other factions claimed responsibility for the remainder.
Likud Knesset member Danny Danon urged the government to cut off electricity supplies to Gaza. Diaspora Affairs Minister Yuli Edelstein called for the IDF to “deliver a decisive blow” against Gaza’s terror cells.
The dramatic escalation came after an anti-tank missile fired from the Gaza Strip struck and penetrated an Israeli army jeep patrolling some 200 meters inside the Israeli border with Gaza and injured four soldiers on Saturday evening.
Retaliatory strikes by the IDF against terrorists in the Gaza Strip left four Palestinians killed and roughly 30 wounded.
Ashraf al-Kidra, a Gaza health ministry spokesman, said all four Palestinians killed were civilians between the ages of 16 and 18 and that among the wounded were some children.
In a text message to reporters, Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum threatened to respond.
“Targeting civilians is a dangerous escalation that cannot be tolerated. The resistance has the full right to respond to the Israeli crimes,” he said.
The upsurge in rocket attacks followed soon after.
A statement issued by Hamas, which rules Gaza, said all Israeli military targets were “legitimate” objects of attack.
A senior Islamic Jihad official said, following the attack on Gaza, that Gaza terrorist groups “will not give the Zionist enemy calm for free.”
IDF Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Benny Gantz convened with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Barak late Saturday to assess the situation along the border.
Former IDF chief of staff, Kadima chairman Shaul Mofaz said that Gaza required “thorough treatment.”
“The terror organizations should be busy running for their lives instead of carrying out attacks,” said Mofaz
Television reports noted that recent cross-border fire from Gaza had included highly accurate Katyusha rockets, capable of doing far more damage than previous rocket fire.