Schools across southern Israel will be closed on Tuesday after the region was hit with the heaviest-ever rocket fire from the Gaza Strip in a single day.
On Monday, armed groups in Gaza fired more then 300 rockets at southern Israel, according to the IDF, some of which scored direct hits on homes, causing more than 20 injuries. Additionally, an Israeli soldier was critically injured by an anti-tank missile near the Gaza border.
In response, the Israeli military targeted dozens of sites in the Strip and leveled the Hamas Al-Aqsa TV building.
The IDF said dozens of incoming projectiles from Gaza were shot down by the Iron Dome air defense system. Most of the rest landed in open fields outside Israeli communities, but a number struck homes and buildings in cities and towns across the south, including Ashkelon, Netivot and Sderot, where they caused significant damage.
Hamas, Palestinian Islamic Jihad and other armed groups in the Gaza Strip have threatened to expand the range of the rockets, after near-ceaseless sirens wailed across population centers in the south of Israel since Monday afternoon, sending hundreds of thousands running to shelters.
In the early evening, the military preemptively canceled school for Tuesday in the Gaza border region. In addition, businesses were 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.
Classes were also canceled in the southern cities of Beersheba, Ashdod, Ashkelon and towns of Kiryat Gat, Kiryat Malachi, and Netivot.
Ashdod is roughly 40 kilometers (about 25 miles) from the Gaza border, and the furthest town from the Strip to make such a decision thus far.
In the areas closest to the volatile enclave, namely the Gaza border region, residents were urged to stay in shelters until further notice.
The dramatic flareup came hours after a bus in southern Israel was targeted.
Shortly after 4:30 p.m. on Monday, terrorists fired a Kornet anti-tank guided missile at a bus parked a few hundred meters from the Gaza border, seriously injuring a 19-year-old Israeli soldier, the army said. More troops had reportedly been on the bus, but exited before the missile struck.
The bus and rocket attacks drew a swift Israeli reprisal, with the IDF warning that Hamas would “feel the power” of its response. The IDF said it hit 70 targets in response to the latest attacks from Gaza, including three underground tunnels that are used to try and infiltrate into Israeli territory.
Later on Monday night, Israel leveled the headquarters of Hamas’s Al-Aqsa TV, after firing warning shots to alert those inside of an impending strike.
The most recent 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, including a Hamas commander. After 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, an Islamist terror group that seeks to destroy Israel, would uphold a precarious ceasefire agreement recently brokered by Egypt and the United Nations and supported by Qatar.