The Hamas terror group said Tuesday that if Israel continues its airstrikes campaign in the Gaza Strip, it will expand the range of its rocket attacks to include the major southern cities of Ashdod and Beersheba, which together are home to nearly half a million Israelis.
Rocket attacks on Beersheba, located some 40 kilometers (25 miles) from the Strip, are rare and considered a major escalation. Ashdod lies 20 kilometers (12.5 miles) from Gaza.
The threat from Hamas’s military wing, the Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades, came as intense fighting between Hamas and other Gaza terror groups and Israel entered its second day, with rockets fired at the coastal city of Ashkelon and towns closer to the Gaza border, including Sderot.
“Occupied Ashkelon has entered the range of fire in response to the bombardment of civilian buildings in Gaza,” Qassam Brigades spokesman Abu Obeida wrote on Twitter. “Ashdod and Beersheva are the next targets if the enemy continues to bombard civilian buildings.” Hamas, which seized control of Gaza in 2007, seeks to destroy Israel.
Israel’s top-level security cabinet was scheduled to meet Tuesday morning to discuss the situation in Gaza.
In Ashkelon, which took several barrages late Monday and early Tuesday, one person was killed when an apartment building was hit around midnight. Eight others were wounded in the strike, including two women with life-threatening injuries, according to emergency services.
The terror group, the de facto ruler in Gaza, added that the overnight barrage fired at Ashkelon was in response to Israeli strikes on civilian buildings in Gaza. The city is just 12 kilometers from Gaza.
The IDF said Tuesday that it had hit 150 targets across Gaza since the day before, including sites belonging to Hamas and Islamic Jihad. Among the targets hit were weapons warehouses, a naval vessel used by Hamas and a building used as the administration of Hamas’s internal security service overnight, as well as three tunnels.
A spokesman for Palestinian Islamic Jihad, another terror group in Gaza that fired some of the rockets at Israel, threatened attacks even beyond Beersheba and deeper into Israel.
“What happened yesterday evening and until this moment is part of the traditional response that Israel expects,” the group said. “In the coming hours the enemy will receive what it doesn’t expect. Continued aggression of this kind will lead the resistance to expand its response so that the settlers beyond the cities of Beersheba and Ashdod will have to remain next to shelters.”
IDF spokesman Brigadier General Ronen Manelis responded to the threats in a tweet Tuesday morning, mocking the Hamas and Islamic Jihad leadership for hiding in bunkers while Gaza’s residents suffer the consequences of their actions.
“I am hearing a list of tweets and announcements coming from bunkers in the Strip,” he wrote. “I suggest that they start to think about a tweet that explains to the residents of Gaza what disaster they are leading them into. Israel’s residents are resolute, the IDF is determined, and cowards’ tweets don’t impress us.”
The Israel Defense Forces said that, including the fresh barrage Tuesday, more than 400 rockets and mortar rounds had been shot at Israel since Monday, including 70 rockets fired at Israeli towns since midnight, in what was being called the largest-ever barrage on southern Israel.
The IDF said dozens of those had been knocked down by the Iron Dome anti-missile system overnight, and “about 100” had been intercepted since the rocket volleys began Monday afternoon.
While most of the rockets shot at Israel that were not intercepted by Iron Dome landed in open areas, several scored hits on homes and other buildings.
The rocket attacks began shortly after 4:30 p.m., when terrorists fired a Kornet anti-tank guided missile at an Israeli bus near the border, seriously injuring an IDF soldier who was standing near it. Dozens of other soldiers had previously been on the bus, parked near the Black Arrow memorial near Kibbutz Kfar Azza, and exited moments before the missile struck.
In Gaza, there were reports of continuing Israeli airstrikes overnight, after a day that saw dozens of attacks across the Strip, including in populated areas.
The Hamas-run health ministry said four people were killed, three of whom were identified as members of terror groups.