The Hamas terror group’s military wing claimed responsibility on Monday for a massive barrage of rocket fire on the south and threatened to strike deeper into Israeli territory, after a bombardment of some 100 rockets injured several Israelis and prompted retaliatory airstrikes in the Gaza Strip.
“The joint command of Palestinian factions announces the beginning of bombardments of the enemy’s settlements with scores of rockets,” the Hamas military wing, the Izz ad-Din al Qassam Brigades, said in a statement.
The joint command, which consists of Hamas, Palestinian Islamic Jihad and other armed groups in the Gaza Strip, also threatened to expand the range of the rockets, after near-ceaseless sirens wailed across population centers in the south of Israel, sending hundreds of thousands to shelters.
“The resistance factions’ joint command center warns the Zionist enemy that if it continues its aggression in response to the resistance’s bombardment of the Gaza envelope, which is in response to its deceitful crime, the resistance will increase the distance, depth and intensity of its bombardment of its positions and usurped lands,” said an update posted on the website of Hamas’s military wing.
Hamas spokesman Hazem al-Qassim added on Twitter: “The resistance is undertaking its duty to defend its people in confronting the ongoing Israeli aggression.”
The Islamic Jihad terror group issued a statement calling its rocket fire on Israeli communities a “natural response in the name of the Palestinian people” to the killing Sunday of Hamas commander Nour Barakeh during an Israeli raid in the Gaza Strip.
Fighting on the Gaza border erupted Monday afternoon, with dozens of projectiles fired from the Strip striking southern Israel, as well as an anti-tank missile that hit an Israeli bus near the border and critically injured a soldier, officials said.
According to the Israel Defense Forces, more than 100 projectiles were fired at southern Israel in less than 40 minutes. Some 60 were intercepted by the Iron Dome air defense system, while several others struck homes and buildings in Israeli communities near the Gaza border, causing injuries and damage. Most of the projectiles fell in open areas, the military said.
The barrage triggered incoming rocket sirens throughout southern Israel, sending hundreds of thousands of Israelis rushing to bomb shelters for cover.
Mortar and rocket attacks sparked fires in the southern Israeli towns of Sderot and Netivot. In Sderot, three people were also lightly wounded, apparently by shrapnel, after a rocket exploded near them, medics said.
In total, seven people were taken to Ashkelon’s Barzilai Hospital for treatment.
In response to the heavy barrage from the Gaza Strip, Israeli fighter jets launched a series of air raids against targets in the coastal enclave, the military said.
Three Palestinians were killed by Israeli fire in the northern Gaza Strip and three were wounded, the Hamas-run Health Ministry said. It identified the dead as Muhammed al-Tatri, 27, Muhammed Oudeh, 22, and Hamad al-Nahal, 23.
The military wing of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine claimed two of the dead as its members.
The attack from Gaza came less than a day after an IDF special operations officer was killed in an operation gone awry that also killed seven Palestinian gunmen in the Strip. Following Sunday night’s incident, Hamas said “the blood of our righteous martyrs will not be wasted.”
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu arrived at Defense Ministry headquarters in Tel Aviv on Monday evening for a situational assessment with Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman and IDF Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot regarding the recent developments.
The renewed clashes dashed hopes that Israel and Hamas, an Islamist terror group that seeks to destroy Israel, would uphold a recent ceasefire agreement brokered by Egypt and the United Nations and supported by Qatar.
Agencies and Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.