Grad hits Beersheba outskirts as southern escalation enters second day

More than 50 missiles fired at southern Israel since Tuesday; nine injured near Kibbutz Yad Mordechai

Palestinians inspect a motorcycle that was hit by an Israeli airstrike in Deir el-Balah in the central Gaza Strip, June 19, 2012. (photo credit: Abed Rahim Khatib/Flash90)
Palestinians inspect a motorcycle that was hit by an Israeli airstrike in Deir el-Balah in the central Gaza Strip, June 19, 2012. (photo credit: Abed Rahim Khatib/Flash90)

The air force struck Hamas targets in the Gaza Strip early Wednesday morning, the seventh airstrike carried out overnight in response to ongoing rocket attacks on Israel. Hamas claimed responsibility for the latest dramatic escalation from the Strip, which saw 15 rockets fired since nightfall and more than 50 over the last two days.

Nearly all the rockets fell in the area closest to the Gaza Strip, but a Grad Rocket that fell in an open field south of Beersheba on Wednesday morning, causing no damage, suggests that a further escalation may be imminent.

Palestinian sources said Israeli strikes targeted two military installations, on the north coast of Gaza and in the Zeitoun neighborhood of Gaza City, and that one person was injured in the Zeitoun strike.

The IDF has instructed residents of the Eshkol and Hof Ashkelon regional councils to stay near sheltered areas in anticipation of continued fire, but schools remain open.

On Tuesday, a rocket landed next to a police vehicle in the vicinity of Kibbutz Yad Mordechai, in the Hof Ashkelon region, starting a fire and injuring nine Border Policemen. One man suffered serious injuries in the explosion, and several others were lightly injured by shrapnel.

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Another rocket was fired at approximately 2 a.m. Wednesday and landed in an open area in the Eshkol Regional Council. There were no injuries or damage reported.

“The IDF will not tolerate any attempt to target Israeli civilians and IDF soldiers and will continue to operate with strength and determination against anyone who uses terror against the residents of the State of Israel. The Hamas terror organization is solely responsible for any terrorist activity emanating from the Gaza Strip,” read a statement by the IDF’s Spokesman’s office.

Hamas claimed responsibility early Wednesday for the more than 50 Kassam rockets, Grad missiles and mortar shells that were fired by Gaza-based terrorists into southern Israel since Tuesday. With the exception of the Hof Ashkelon hit, the rockets landed in open areas and there were no other injuries or damage reported.

Three Grad missiles were fired at the town of Netivot at about 8:30 PM Tuesday. All three landed in open areas near the town.

Several rockets were fired into the Eshkol, Hof Ashkelon, Sdot Negev and Shaar Hanegev regions in the morning and afternoon into the night.

The IDF has four Iron Dome missile defense system batteries deployed in the south of the country. Iron Dome has advance capabilities that enable it to intercept rockets aimed at population centers while ignoring those that fall in open areas.

Defense Minister Ehud Barak gathered top generals of the IDF in order to discuss possible responses the army could take in light of recent escalation along the border with Gaza.

Police Commissioner Yohanan Danino predicted on Tuesday that the current round of fighting would go on for several days.

“We are preparing for the possibility that [the attacks] may reach the larger and more distant cities,” he said.

IDF Chief of Staff Benny Gantz visited the Israeli-Egyptian border on Tuesday afternoon, at the site of Monday’s terror attack in which an Israeli citizen was killed by terrorists who infiltrated the south of Israel from Sinai. Two terrorists were killed, and an Islamic group named the Mujahideen Shura Council of Jerusalem claimed responsibility.

Said Fashapshe, 36 and a father of four, a resident of Haifa who had been employed by the Defense Ministry for years and worked on the Israel-Egypt border fence for the past 18 months, was killed in the attack. Terrorists had fired on a convoy of construction workers.

Soldiers stationed along the border handled the situation well, Gantz told reporters who asked about the security situation along the newly built fence. “The bigger problems are the terror bases being built in Sinai,” he said.

The rocket strikes were the latest salvo in a period which has seen multiple cross-border incidents involving Gazan terrorists and the IDF.

Responsibility for the Tuesday morning rocket fire was claimed by Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades, Hamas’s military wing, which said it was aiming at an IDF base at Zikim, close to Ashkelon. It said the attacks were in response to the death of one of its members, who was killed in an Israeli strike on Monday — itself a response to previous rocket fire from Gaza.

Earlier, in the small hours of Tuesday morning, IAF planes struck a terrorist cell planting explosives near the border fence in the central Gaza Strip. A Palestinian health official said two Gaza men were killed as a result.




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