Fresh fighting erupted on the Gaza border Monday afternoon, with dozens of projectiles fired by terrorists in the Strip striking southern Israel, as well as an anti-tank missile attack on an Israeli bus near the border that seriously injured a soldier, officials said.
According to the Israel Defense Forces, more than 300 projectiles were fired at Israel, triggering sirens in Israeli communities close to the Gaza Strip, in the city of Beersheba and even as far away as the Dead Sea and the West Bank’s Hebron Hills.
Some 60 incoming rockets and mortar shells from Gaza were intercepted by the Iron Dome air defense system, the military said, while several others struck homes and buildings in Israeli communities near the border, causing light injuries and severe damage. The IDF said that the majority of the projectiles that were not intercepted fell in open areas, causing neither casualties nor damage.
In response to the heavy barrage from the Gaza Strip — one of the largest attacks since the 2014 war — Israeli fighter jets launched a series of air and ground strikes. At least three Palestinians were killed by Israeli fire in the retaliatory attacks and three others were wounded, the Hamas-run Gaza health ministry said.
The attacks 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, the Gaza-ruling terror group Hamas said “the blood of our righteous martyrs will not be wasted.”
The renewed clashes dashed hopes that Israel and Hamas would uphold a precarious ceasefire agreement recently brokered by Egypt and the United Nations and supported by Qatar.
The Israeli military said its helicopters, tanks, fighter jets and other aircraft bombed some 20 sites connected to the Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad terror groups — the two largest organizations in the Gaza Strip.
According to the military, approximately half of the targets were located in the northern Gaza Strip, including military facilities and observation posts. The other half were located in the southern Strip, the army said.
“In addition, a number of rocket-launching cells were attacked,” the IDF said in a statement. “The IDF is continuing at this time to attack terror cites throughout the Strip.”
The Gaza health ministry identified the dead in the enclave 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 terror group claimed two of the dead as its members.
Rockets struck homes in the coastal city of Ashkelon and the southern Israeli towns of Sderot and Netivot, sparking fires. A mortar shell also hit a powerline in the Sdot Negev region of southern Israel, according to local government officials.
In Sderot, six people were lightly wounded by shrapnel. A seventh victim in Sderot, a 16-year-old girl, was lightly wounded when a heavy metal bomb shelter door closed on her hand, medics said.
In total, at least nine people were taken to Ashkelon’s Barzilai Hospital or Beersheba’s Soroka Medical Center for treatment, with more receiving first aid on the scene.
The barrage triggered incoming rocket sirens throughout southern Israel, sending hundreds of thousands of Israelis rushing to bomb shelters for cover.
In light of the barrage from the Gaza Strip, which began shortly after 4:30 p.m., the Israeli military ordered residents of communities near the Gaza Strip to remain inside bomb shelters until further notice. That included residents of the towns of Netivot and Ofakim, which are not typically as affected by Gaza rockets as communities closer to the border.
Residents of the cities of Beersheba, Ashkelon and Ashdod were told to stay within close proximity of bomb shelters and protected spaces.
The military also preemptively canceled school for Tuesday in the Gaza border region. In addition, businesses are ordered closed, along with government offices, unless they are considered essential, the army said. No large gatherings are allowed in southern Israel on Monday night and Tuesday, it said.
The barrage began after a Kornet anti-tank guided missile was fired from the Gaza Strip at a bus that was parked at the Black Arrow memorial site in the Sha’ar Hanegev region of southern Israel, a few hundred meters from the Gaza border.
The bus caught fire after the projectile hit it. One serviceman, 19, was seriously injured in the attack. The bus had previously been filled with other soldiers, who managed to exit before the missile struck. The driver of the bus, 25, was taken to the hospital after he suffered a panic attack, medics said.
The 19-year-old Israeli soldier was taken to Beersheba’s Soroka Medical Center in unstable condition, with injuries throughout his body, medics said.
As the fusillade began, Palestinian media reported that Israeli tanks fired artillery shells at a Hamas observation post in northern Gaza. Other reports in the Strip said an Israeli helicopter fired warning shots toward Hamas fighters who approached the border fence in southern Gaza.
Earlier in the day, the Israeli military deployed additional Iron Dome air defense batteries, as well as infantry reinforcements, to southern Israel.
“The Israel Defense Forces reinforced its troops in the Southern Command and is prepared to use large amounts of force if necessary,” the army said in a statement Monday.
After Sunday night’s incident, the Israel special forces squad was forced to retreat to the Israeli side of the fence under the cover of the aerial bombardment, Hamas’s military wing said in a statement. A Hamas spokesperson praised the “brave resistance that repulsed the Israeli aggression.”
Hamas accused Israel of sabotaging the emerging ceasefire agreement that was brokered by Egypt and supported by Qatar.
Weekly Gaza border protests, dubbed the “Great March of Return,” have been taking place since March 30 and have mostly involved the burning of tires and rock-throwing along the security fence, but have also seen shooting attacks, bombings and attempted border breaches as well as the launching of incendiary balloons and kites into Israel. Southern Israel has also seen sporadic, but aggressive rocket bombardments from the Gaza Strip.
Over 160 Gazans have been killed in the clashes, dozens of them members of Hamas. The Hamas Islamist terror group, which seized control of Gaza in 2007, seeks to destroy Israel.
Egypt, alongside United Nations special coordinator for the Middle East peace process Nikolay Mladenov, has recently played a key role in attempts to mediate a ceasefire between Israel and the armed groups in the Strip, as well as to bring about national reconciliation between Hamas and the West Bank-based administration of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.
Times of Israel staff and agencies contributed to this report.