Rockets batter southern Israel; 10 Gazans, including kids, killed in IAF strikes

Projectiles fired from Gaza hit Ashdod apartment building, port; military targets terror sites across Palestinian enclave

An Israeli inspects the damage to his house following a rocket attack from the Gaza Strip, in the southern Israeli city of Sderot on May 15, 2021. (JACK GUEZ / AFP)
An Israeli inspects the damage to his house following a rocket attack from the Gaza Strip, in the southern Israeli city of Sderot on May 15, 2021. (JACK GUEZ / AFP)

Cities and communities in southern Israel faced an intense barrage of rockets overnight Friday and into Saturday, with several heavy waves of projectile fire targeting Ashkelon, Ashdod, Beersheba, Sderot and the surrounding areas.

The bombardment came as the Israeli military continued to strike numerous targets in the Gaza Strip since midnight, taking out rocket-launching sites, terror cells and a Hamas intelligence center, according to the Israel Defense Forces.

The military said it struck many rocket-launching positions, including a long-range launcher used to fire rockets at Jerusalem in the Monday salvo that began the latest conflict.

Several terror cells were hit on their way to launch rockets, the IDF said. Other targets hit included a tunnel shaft located at a beachside hotel, “operational apartments” of Hamas naval forces, two homes of Hamas commanders used as command posts in the past and weapons warehouses. Among the equipment stored in the latter were paragliders for use in aerial infiltration attempts.

A long exposure picture shows the Iron Dome anti-missile system intercepting rockets fired from the Gaza Strip, as it seen from the southern Israeli city of Ashkelon, May 14, 2021. (Avi Roccah/Flash90)

One of the rockets fired from Gaza in the middle of the night made a direct hit on an apartment building in Ashdod, while another landed in the Ashdod port, hitting a fuel reservoir and causing a massive explosion that sent huge flames into the night sky. No injuries were immediately reported in either incident.

A rocket also directly hit a home in Beersheba, causing no casualties. Nineteen people were hospitalized in the city’s Soroka Medical Center — 16 of them lightly hurt while running to shelters, and three suffering from shock.

Some of the rockets were intercepted by the Iron Dome anti-missile system while others landed in open areas.

Earlier in the night, Palestinians said 10 members of one family were killed, mostly children, when an airstrike hit a three-story building in the Shati refugee camp in the Palestinian enclave.

Eight children and two women, all belonging to the Abu Hatab family, were killed, Gaza medical sources said.

Israeli military sources, quoted by Israel’s Channel 12 news on Saturday, said “senior Hamas figures” were meeting in the building at the time, and it was “not clear” how many of them were among the dead.

It was the deadliest single strike since Israel’s battle with Gaza’s Hamas rulers erupted earlier this week.

The prime minister’s Arab-language spokesman on Saturday blamed Hamas for the latest deaths, Channel 12 reported.

“Hamas bears full blame for the deaths of civilians in Gaza,” he said in a statement. “It sought this escalation and started it when it attacked Jerusalem. It intentionally buried its rocket launchers and weapons caches and posts in the center of residential areas and this is a war crime. It attacks our citizens to kill as many of them as possible and that is another war crime.”

There was no immediate response from the IDF, which said earlier that it was continuing to target rocket-launching sites.

Late Friday night, the IDF released a video showing an airstrike on the office of Hamas internal security chief Tawdiq Abu Naim. The army said the building was used to run Hamas military operations.

Palestinian terrorists in Gaza have fired over 2,000 rockets toward Israel since the outbreak of fighting on Monday, according to the Israel Defense Forces. Ten Israelis, including a young child, have been killed in the rocket fire, and hundreds have been injured.

In Gaza, the toll from the fighting climbed to over 100 on Friday, including dozens of children, with 950 wounded, according to the Hamas-run health ministry. The Hamas and Islamic Jihad terror groups have confirmed 20 deaths in their ranks, though Israel says that number is much higher.

A diplomatic source familiar with efforts to broker a ceasefire between Israel and Hamas said Friday that the sides could come to an agreement within days, amid intensive efforts to halt nearly a week of deadly conflict. The source, who spoke to The Times of Israel on condition of anonymity, said mediators had expressed cautious optimism for a halt within days.

The assessment among negotiators was based on experience brokering ceasefires to end previous rounds of violence between the sides and a “clear reading of the room,” the diplomat said.

Hamas political leader Khaled Mashaal told a Turkish news agency Friday that the Gaza terror group is ready for a ceasefire but has not received a response from Israel.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Friday that Israel had no plans to relent in its attacks against Hamas in Gaza, as the military kept up its bombardment of terrorists in the Palestinian enclave and rockets rained down on Israeli cities.

“I said we would strike Hamas and other terror groups with significant blows, and we are doing so,” Netanyahu said. “Hamas leaders think they can escape from our grasp. They cannot escape. We can reach them everywhere — all of [Hamas’s] people and we will continue to do so.”

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