More than 35 Qassam rockets and mortar shells were fired at the western Negev communities early Wednesday, following an Israel Defense Forces operation in the Gaza Strip aimed at thwarting a terror attack.
Two soldiers were moderately injured and four sustained light injuries after a mortar shell was fired at an IDF force during a raid in the Gaza Strip Tuesday night. Six Hamas operatives were killed in the operation, which concluded on Wednesday morning.
Qassam rocket in Ashkelon (Photo: Amir Cohen)
At least one rocket landed in central Ashkelon, and two others landed near the city. The Color Red alert system was activated moments before the fall. Two women and a 13-year-old girl suffered from shock and were evacuated to the Barzilai Medical Center in the city. There were no reports of damage.
At first, reports spoke of six rockets and several mortars fired at the Eshkol Regional Council, but later reports confirmed massive rocket fire.
'Children exposed to missile fire'
The resumption of the rocket fire caused great panic among parents in Ashkelon, who rushed to take out their children from the unfortified schools.
"The parents are right, because we are simply abandoning our children who are exposed to missile fire," said the chairman of the parents committee in one of the schools.
"I left my workplace and took my daughter home," one parent said. "I won't have her stay here one more minute, at least until she calms down."
On Tueday, the local security officers of the Gaza vicinity communities were informed that a resumption of the rocket fire from Gaza should be expected. Six mortar shells were fired at the Kissufim crossing during an IDF operation in the area, but no injuries or damage were reported in the incident.
Following a meeting of the Home Front Command to evaluate the situation it was decided not to call off the school day in Sderot and the Gaza vicinity communities. It was also agreed that the emergency procedures practiced by the civilian population in case of a rocket alert should be reviewed.
Meanwhile, the Magen David Adom emergency services in the region have gone on high alert and will be operating in full capacity.
The Shaar Hanegev Regional Council has opened a hotline to provide information to the residents: 08-6806450
'Israel wants truce to continue'
Defense Minister Ehud Barak held a special discussion Wednesday morning to discuss the night's events and their ramifications. The defense establishment is preparing for the possibility of further escalation.
A security official noted Wednesday morning that the operation was necessary and inevitable in light of the intelligence that has accumulated. He stressed that this was a pin-point operation, and that there was no intention to expand it below the predetermined scope.
"We have no intention to be dragged into an escalation in the Gaza Strip following this incident," he clarified. "If the terror groups maintain the calm – so will we. If not, we will have to respond accordingly."
Deputy Defense Minister Matan Vilnai said after the meeting that Israel does not plan to violate the truce, which has brought calm to the Negev communities. He explained that Tuesday night's raid was a necessity aimed at preventing a kidnapping or a terror attack inside Israel.
Meanwhile, the Islamic Jihad's al-Quds Brigades claimed responsibility for two of the rockets that were fired. "Barak and Livni will not succeed in increasing their chances in the Israeli elections on Gaza's expense, which will blow up in their faces if they attempt to export their political problems into the Strip," the group said in a statement.
Hamas warned that "the Gaza Strip will become a graveyard if the enemy expends its incursion." The organization's spokesman, Fawzi Barhoum, said that "the criminal operation in Gaza is a dangerous violation of the truce and proves that the enemy is seeking an escalation, rather than calm."
The Palestinian groups are preparing for further IDF raids, but despite the threats sources in Gaza said that as long as the operation is not expanded, the ceasefire can be maintained. At least at this point, the truce is still considered a Palestinian interest.