The Israeli military bombed 20 “military facilities” in the Gaza Strip on Wednesday morning, the army said, in response to a predawn rocket attack that struck a home in the southern Israeli city of Beersheba, causing damage but no injury.
A second rocket fired from Gaza landed off the coast of the greater Tel Aviv area, known in Israel as Gush Dan, which consists of the metropolis itself along with a number of large suburbs.
The Israel Defense Forces said it held the Hamas terror group, which rules the coastal enclave, responsible for the attack, regardless of which group specifically launched the rockets.
“There are only two organizations in Gaza that have this caliber of rocket: Hamas and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad,” said IDF spokesperson Lt. Col. Jonathan Conricus. “It’s not hard to narrow down who’s behind it.”
However, in a joint statement, Hamas and PIJ publicly condemned the rocket attack, saying it was “irresponsible” and threatened to derail an Egypt-led negotiation effort.
In response to the early morning rocket attack, the IDF said it bombed some 20 targets throughout the Gaza Strip, including an attack tunnel that entered Israeli territory from outside the city of Khan Younis.
The military said it had been monitoring the tunnel for some time.
The IDF later released footage of its strike on the underground site, which the army said was the 16th tunnel it destroyed since last year.
The entrance to a naval tunnel west of Khan Younis, which would be used by Hamas’s naval commando unit, was also destroyed in the retaliatory airstrikes, the army said.
In addition, Israeli air force jets bombed a number of weapons factory, military bases and other facilities connected to Hamas’s tunnel-building efforts, Conricus said.
The retaliatory strikes hit targets throughout the Gaza Strip: in Rafah, Khan Younis, Tel al-Hawa, and in the north of the enclave near Beit Lahiya.
Three people were moderately wounded in the strikes near Rafah, according to the Hamas-run health ministry.
An Israeli aircraft also targeted a group of Palestinian terrorists as they attempted to launch a projectile at Israel from the northern Gaza Strip, the spokesman said.
The military later released video footage of the airstrike, showing the men loading a launch tube with a shell and taking a few steps away before the aircraft bombed them.
One Palestinian was killed in the strike, according to the Hamas-run Gaza health ministry. He was later identified as Naji Ahmed al-Za’anin, 25.
After disavowing the rocket attacks, Hamas and PIJ said they “affirm our preparedness to confront the occupation’s assaults. Our guns will continue to be a protective shield for our people and our weapons are drawn at the face of our enemy.”
The rockets fired by Palestinian terrorists at Israel in the predawn hours of Wednesday morning came on the heels of weeks of soaring tensions.
One targeted Beersheba, which is located some 40 kilometers (25 miles) from the Strip. The explosion ripped off the front of the building and caused significant damage to the internal rooms and the roof. The mother inside had brought her three children into the building’s bomb shelter before the rocket hit.
The second rocket fell out at sea across from Gush Dan. The military confirmed that it struck “off the coast of a large city.”
The rockets used in the attack were not the standard Grad variety, but an improved version with a larger warhead. According to the IDF, it is a mid-range model that is produced within the Gaza Strip.
Iron Dome air defense batteries were not activated during the rocket attack. IDF Spokesperson Brig. Gen. Ronen Manelis said only that the anti-rocket system did not provide “hermetic” protection.
Rocket attacks on Beersheba — home to more than 200,000 people — are rare and considered a major escalation. It was only the second rocket fired at Beersheba since the 2014 Gaza war. The previous rocket, which struck a field north of Beersheba on August 9, came as Palestinians fired dozens of projectiles at Israeli communities along the Gaza border.
Following the rocket attack, schools were closed in Beersheba and in the communities immediately surrounding the Gaza Strip, the army said. Residents of the Gaza periphery were also barred from gathering in groups larger than 300 people outdoors and 500 people indoors.
The attack came as an Egyptian military intelligence delegation was visiting the enclave. Palestinian media reported that the group was working to soothe tensions following the rocket attack and prevent war.
On Tuesday, Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman warned that the military was gearing up for a major strike on Gaza to stop ongoing violence.
Liberman ordered that the two crossings between Gaza and Israel — Erez for pedestrians and Kerem Shalom for goods — remain closed Wednesday in light of the attack. In addition, the fishing zone for Gazans was cut in half, to three nautical miles from the shore, his office said.
Since March 30, Palestinians in the Gaza Strip have participated in a series of protests and riots dubbed the “Great March of Return,” which have mostly involved the burning of tires and rock-throwing along the security fence, but have also seen shooting attacks and bombings as well as the sending of incendiary balloons and kites into Israel.
There have also been several flareups that took Israel and Hamas to the brink of war, with Palestinians firing rockets into Israel and the IDF responding with airstrikes.
Some 155 Palestinians have been killed and thousands more have been injured in the clashes with IDF troops, according to AP figures; Hamas has acknowledged that dozens of the dead were its members. One Israeli soldier was shot dead by a sniper on the border.
The riots began as weekly events, but in recent weeks — due to both an internal Palestinian conflict and failed indirect negotiations with Israel — the clashes have become a daily event.
Adam Rasgon and Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.