Massive rocket barrages target Tel Aviv and south, dampening ceasefire hopes

Israel says it is assessing deal after Egyptian media says fighting to end Wednesday evening, but resumption of rocket fire and IDF airstrikes raise doubts

Israel's Iron Dome air defense system intercepts rockets launched from Gaza City on May 10, 2023. (Mohammed Abed/AFP)
Israel's Iron Dome air defense system intercepts rockets launched from Gaza City on May 10, 2023. (Mohammed Abed/AFP)

Israel and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad terror group were nearing a deal to end over a day of fighting in the Gaza Strip, Egyptian media reported on Wednesday, as large rocket salvos on a wide swath of the country resumed after a brief pause.

Less than an hour after Israel confirmed it was mulling a ceasefire, Gazan fighters let loose with a massive barrage on Israel’s heartland and much of the country’s south, including the city of Beersheba for the first time, ending an hours-long lull. Damage from a rocket strike was reported in Netivot, but there were no reports of injuries.

In another barrage later Wednesday evening, the yard of a home in Sderot was hit, causing no physical injuries. Rockets were also fired toward Ashkelon, where a car and storage unit were hit, also without any injuries caused. A house in Kibbutz Nir Am was struck by a rocket, but its residents were safely inside a bomb shelter.

As rockets streaked through the sky, Israeli TV stations showed air defense systems intercepting rockets above the skies of Tel Aviv. In the nearby suburb of Ramat Gan, people lay facedown on the ground as they took cover.

The ongoing bombardments were met with Israeli reprisal strikes, despite hopes for a swift end to the fighting.

A short time earlier, Egypt’s Extra News television channel, which has close ties to Egyptian security agencies, said that Cairo had brokered a ceasefire. Egyptian intelligence frequently mediates between Israel and Palestinian militants in Gaza and has brokered ceasefires in the past.

The Al-Ghad news channel reported that a ceasefire was ready to go into effect by Wednesday evening, citing sources from Palestinian factions.

Israeli government officials confirmed that Egypt was trying to facilitate a ceasefire. Speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss behind-the-scenes diplomacy, they said Israel would evaluate the situation based on actions on the ground, not declarations.

Rockets are launched from the Gaza Strip towards Israel, in Gaza, May 10, 2023. (AP Photo/ Hatem Moussa)

Foreign Minister Eli Cohen confirmed to the Kan public broadcaster that Israel had received a ceasefire proposal from Egypt, and that the government was “assessing it.”

There was no immediate comment from Islamic Jihad, the terror group involved in the latest fighting.

The nighttime barrages saw rockets fired at the southern city of Beersheba for the first time since the beginning of the fighting. In Netivot, shrapnel from an Iron Dome interceptor damaged a home, but caused no injuries. Another missile hit a Beersheba park and reports indicated minor damage to other structures, but no injuries.

Terror groups have launched major barrages before a ceasefire deal goes into effect to gain last-minute achievements.

Earlier Wednesday, Israel Defense Forces spokesperson Rear Admiral Daniel Hagari dismissed reports of negotiations and said the military was focusing its strikes in the Gaza Strip on the terror group.

Gazan terrorists fired 289 rockets at Israel over several hours between 2 p.m. and 4 p.m. Wednesday afternoon, the IDF said earlier, ending a 36-hour wait for a response to Israel’s assassinations of several top Islamic Jihad commanders early Tuesday.

Residents of the southern Israeli city of Ashkelon sit outside a bomb shelter, amid heightened tensions between Palestinian terrorists in the Gaza strip and Israel, on May 10, 2023. (Menahem KAHANA / AFP)

Despite the talk of a ceasefire, the IDF extended its emergency orders for communities near Gaza until Friday afternoon. The measures keep schools and kindergartens closed and place limits on public gatherings to less than 10 people in open areas and 100 in protected spaces.

Beaches in the area will remain closed and workplaces are only allowed to operate if workers can reach a bomb shelter in the required amount of time.

Earlier, Defense Minister Yoav Gallant requested to enlarge the area to all communities within 80 kilometers (some 50 miles) of Gaza, as Islamic Jihad terrorists fired hundreds of rockets at Israel.

The IDF said 65 of the projectiles fired by terrorists fell short inside Gaza. Another 62 were shot down, including one rocket fired at Tel Aviv that marked the first successful interception of the David’s Sling medium-range air defense system. The other 61 were downed by Iron Dome, its vaunted short-range cousin, three rockets landed in populated areas and the rest fell harmlessly on open land without causing damage, the IDF said.

Barzilai Medical Center in the southern city of Ashkelon said eight people were injured while running for shelter and another three were treated for nervous shock.

At the same time, the military carried out dozens of air strikes on what it said were Islamic Jihad rocket launchers and other infrastructure. At least 21 people have been killed since Israel launched the surprise offensive on Tuesday morning, according to the Hamas-run Health Ministry in Gaza, and another 64 injured. The figure includes both terrorists targeted by Israel and civilians.

Smoke rises after a rocket fired from the Gaza Strip hit near the southern Israeli town of Ashkelon. May 10, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Despite being part of the joint operations center that claimed the rocket salvos, Hamas has not joined the round of fighting, the IDF said, justifying its decision to keep focusing its efforts on Islamic Jihad.

Israeli leaders are thought to prefer that Hamas and its larger, more advanced missile stores remain on the sidelines.

The IDF said that its warplanes and helicopters have hit some 108 targets in the Gaza Strip belonging to Islamic Jihad — mostly rocket launch sites — as of Wednesday afternoon.

Operation Shield and Arrow was launched early Tuesday as the IDF assassinated Khalil Bahtini, who commands Islamic Jihad in northern Gaza, Jihad Ghanem, a top official in the group’s military council, and Tareq Izz ed-Din, who it said directed Islamic Jihad terror activities in the West Bank from a base in Gaza. Ten others were also killed in the coordinated strikes, including women and children, Gaza authorities said.

In a subsequent strike on Tuesday afternoon, members of an Islamic Jihad cell allegedly en route to carrying out an anti-tank guided missile attack on the Gaza border were struck and killed.

Previous strikes on Islamic Jihad leaders have been answered with barrages of rockets on Israeli civilians and intense battles with Israeli troops, some lasting several days.

Also early Wednesday, two members of a local wing of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad in the West Bank were killed in a shootout with IDF forces.

AP contributed to this report

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