Palestinian terrorists in the Gaza Strip fired at least six salvos of rockets into southern Israel late Friday, with the Iron Dome defense system destroying most of the inbound projectiles.
At least 20 rockets were launched at Israeli targets, and the Iron Dome aerial defense system intercepted at least 10.
There were no reports of direct Israeli casualties or damage. However, seven people were treated by medics for anxiety attacks. Two people were said lightly hurt while running to bomb shelters.
The Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) terror group appeared to claim responsibility for the attack. It said the assault was a response to deaths during Friday’s border protests, after five Palestinians were killed during riots, one by his own hand grenade.
Palestinian sources speaking to the Ynet news website claimed the attacks were carried out against the objections of the Hamas terror group that rules Gaza, though this had no official confirmation.
The Israeli military said the air force had begun striking targets in Gaza in response, though no details were immediately available.
IAF aircraft are now targeting terror facilities in Gaza, after at least 14 rockets were fired from Gaza at Israeli civilians. Iron Dome has so far intercepted 10, saving many lives. Reports of more rockets fired. More to follow.
— Jonathan Conricus (@LTCJonathan) October 26, 2018
Meanwhile IDF Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Gadi Eisenkot held a security assessment at IDF headquarters in Tel Aviv with senior officials from the military and the Shin Bet internal security agency.
Sirens blared in several communities near the Gaza Strip on at least six separate occasions, sending thousands of Israelis running for bomb shelters.
כיפת ברזל הופעלה בשדרות. קרדיט צילום: שדרות און-ליין. pic.twitter.com/FMbd8qLUr1
— almog ben-zikri (@almogbenzikri) October 26, 2018
A spokesman for the city of Sderot said at least eight rockets were fired at his city, with Iron Dome intercepting six of them, while two others fell in an open area.
Residents reported the sounds of several explosions after the sirens went off and video showed interceptors streaming into the air to take down multiple rockets with huge explosions.
In response to the rocket barrages, the IDF’s Home Front Command overnight issued instructions restricting gatherings in the Gaza periphery: up to 100 people in open areas and 500 people in closed spaces.
The rocket fire comes amid a deadly flareup in violence in the Gaza Strip. Earlier on Friday, thousands of Palestinians gathered at five locations along the border, burning tires and throwing rocks and firebombs at Israeli troops who responded with tear gas and occasional live fire.
Five protesters were killed and another 170 were injured in the clashes with IDF troops, the Hamas-run health ministry in Gaza said.
In a statement following the launching of rockets at Israel Friday night, the PIJ said: “The resistance can not stand idly by in the face of the continued killing of innocent people in cold blood by the occupation…and the continued shedding of the blood of peaceful civilians.”
It would be the first time Gaza terror groups have explicitly used rocket attacks in response to deaths at the border since regular violent protests began in March, Hadashot news reported.
Earlier this week, a rocket was launched at southern Israel from Gaza, triggering sirens in a number of communities in the Eshkol region, ending a week-long stretch of relative calm in the coastal enclave.
In response to that attack, the IDF said it hit eight Hamas targets in the Gaza Strip, including training bases and a weapons production facility.
The ramped up tensions are likely to complicate the mission of Egyptian mediators, who have intensified their shuttle diplomacy to achieve calm and prevent a full-blown conflict between Gaza’s Hamas rulers and Israel.
Weekly large-scale riots by Gazans, and clashes between Palestinians and Israeli soldiers, have become a mainstay along the Strip’s security fence since March 30, as part of a Hamas-led effort known as the “March of Return.”
These demonstrations take place each Friday, regularly sending massive amounts of thick smoke into the Israeli communities nearby, as Palestinians burn tires along the border and send incendiary devices affixed to balloons into Israel to spark fires.
The period since March 30 has also included a number of significant flareups and extended clashes. Another rocket launched from the Gaza Strip last week struck a home in the southern Israeli city of Beersheba, causing significant damage, but no injuries as the family inside had reached their bomb shelter in time.
In recent weeks, the situation along the border has grown more precarious, as indirect negotiations between Israel and Hamas — with the Egyptian military and United Nations acting as intermediaries — have reached a critical turning point.
Israel has called for a cessation to all violence, including both the clashes on the border and the daily arson attacks that have burned large swaths of land in the south, in exchange for certain economic incentives and an easing of the blockade around the coastal enclave, which is imposed by Israel to prevent Hamas importing weapons.
Some 161 Palestinians have been killed and thousands more have been injured in the clashes with IDF troops, according to AP figures. Hamas, an Islamist terror group that seized control of the Strip in 2007 and seeks to destroy Israel, has acknowledged that dozens of the dead were its members. One Israeli soldier was shot dead by a sniper on the border.