Projectiles were fired from Gaza into southern Israel Tuesday afternoon in a fresh salvo of cross-border fire amid the most intense fighting seen in the region in years.
There were no immediate reports of injuries from the afternoon barrage.
Sirens blared in Israeli communities in the border region at least six times starting around 3 p.m., sending residents fleeing for shelter hours after having been given the all-clear following a morning volley.
Sirens were reported as far away as the Ashkelon industrial zone and Ofakim, dozens of kilometers from the Strip, indicating the projectiles being fired were longer range than the mortar rounds shot earlier in the day.
There was no immediate word on how many rockets or mortar rounds were fired.
The military said a total of 25 rockets had been knocked down by Iron Dome missile defense batteries as of 4 p.m., though the tally was not official.
At least two projectiles in the afternoon barrage landed near Kibbutz Re’im, according to emergency response officials.
There were no reports of injuries. One man was lightly injured by shrapnel in the morning.
The fire came as Israeli planes pounded Gaza, hitting more than 30 terrorist positions in the Strip in response to the morning’s mortar fire, with one of the targets being a smuggling tunnel in Rafah.
The army said the tunnel that was destroyed near Rafah extended from Egypt through Gaza to Israel. It was still being built and was not yet usable. Earlier, the Hamas terror group identified one of the targets as its training facility.
Defense officials reportedly said the next 24 hours would be “intense” amid the worst escalation on the Gaza border since the 2014 war, known in Israel as Operation Protective Edge.
The army evacuated the nearby Zikim beach, while local authorities in the region told residents to stay near their bomb shelters in the coming hours.
The afternoon’s incoming projectiles were more long range than the more than two dozen mortar shells launched from Gaza which hit southern Israel in the morning, triggering rocket alarms in the Lachish region dozens of kilometers from Gaza.
There was no claim of responsibility for the fresh barrage. The morning volley was claimed by Islamic Jihad as revenge for an Israeli shelling that killed three members of the terror group earlier this week amid already high tensions along the border.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu vowed to respond “with great force” to the mortar shells, one of which landed just outside a kindergarten less than an hour before children were due to arrive. He said both Hamas and Islamic Jihad would be held responsible.
A Hamas spokesperson commented that “Israel will fail in the attempt to change the rules of the conflict and set a new equation on the ground.
“The resistance in the Gaza Strip reserves its right to react or remain silent in accordance with the interest of our people, and this does not come out of weakness,” he said.
A Palestinian official in Gaza cited by Haaretz said Egypt was in talks with Hamas, Islamic Jihad and Israel in an effort to prevent a large-scale confrontation.
“Israel views the attacks on it and on its communities by Hamas and Islamic Jihad from the Gaza Strip with great severity,” Netanyahu said earlier, during a conference in the northern Galilee region, ahead of urgent security consultations set to take place later in the day.
“The IDF will retaliate with great force to these attacks,” the prime minister added. “Israel will make anyone trying to harm it pay a heavy price, and we view Hamas as responsible for preventing such attacks against us.”
As a matter of policy, the Israeli army considers Hamas, which rules Gaza, to be responsible for any attack emanating from the beleaguered coastal enclave.
Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman earlier called a “special situational assessment” at army’s Tel Aviv headquarters with IDF Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot and other senior figures from Israel’s security services, his office said.
Judah Ari Gross contributed to this report.