The Iron Dome anti-missile defense system downed one of two rockets fired from Gaza toward Israel in the predawn hours of Sunday morning, the military said, hours after a ceasefire was due to go into effect to put an end to a flare-up between the Hamas terrorist group and Israel.
The rockets triggered warning sirens across the Eshkol Regional Council bordering on the Gaza Strip, sending tens of thousands of residents running for bomb shelters in the second night of repeated missile attacks.
“Two rockets were launched from Gaza toward Israeli territory. An Iron Dome battery intercepted one of the rockets,” the Israel Defense Forces said in a statement.
Two hours earlier, two mortar shells fired from Gaza struck southern Israel, causing neither injury nor damage. In response, the Israeli military said it “attacked the mortar from which the shells were launched.”
There were no immediate reports of Palestinian injuries.
It was not immediately clear which Palestinian terrorist group was responsible for the rocket or mortar attacks.
The strikes came hours after Hamas and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad terrorist groups announced that they agreed to a ceasefire with Israel, following talks with Egypt and other international bodies.
“The regional and international mediation has led to an end of the current escalation between the resistance and the occupation forces,” Hamas said.
A senior Israeli defense official would not directly comment on the reported ceasefire, but said: “Facts on the ground will determine our continued response.”
Beginning at 1:30 a.m. on Saturday, Hamas and other terrorist groups in the Gaza Strip launched over 174 rockets and mortar shells at southern Israel. The majority of them, well over 100, landed in open fields, where they caused neither injury nor damage. Over 30 of them were intercepted by the Iron Dome missile defense system. A number landed inside communities in southern Israel.
Three Israelis were wounded when rockets hit a home and a synagogue in the border town of Sderot. They were evacuated to the hospital in moderate condition.
A number of other projectiles that landed inside communities in the Eshkol region of southern Israel caused light damage to buildings and infrastructure. In some areas, the mortar shells knocked down power lines, causing temporary outages, a spokesperson for the regional council said.
In response, the IDF launched its largest bombing campaign against Hamas targets in the Strip since the 2014 Gaza war, hitting dozens of targets, the military said.
The Hamas-run Gaza health ministry said that two teenagers, aged 15 and 16, were killed in one of the IDF strikes on Saturday, on a building that the military said was used by Hamas for urban combat training and was situated over a tunnel that led into a “massive” underground network in Gaza.
Hamas claimed the rocket firings were a response to Israeli strikes, adding that the organization would cease firing projectiles if the Jewish state stopped attacking targets in the Strip.
Israel launched the first airstrikes early Saturday after an IDF officer was injured by a grenade thrown at him during a violent riot along the Gaza border on Friday.
Over the last few months, Palestinians in Gaza have flown thousands of kites and balloons attached to incendiary devices that have set off hundreds of fires in farm lands and nature reserves along the border with Gaza, destroying tens of thousands of acres.
The army said it held Hamas responsible for all violence emanating from Gaza, which the terror group has ruled since 2007.
Judah Ari Gross contributed to this report.