A rocket fired from the Gaza Strip slammed into Israel Saturday morning, exploding in a community in southern Israel. No injuries are damages were reported.
The rocket, 20th in number since last Thursday, is part of a wider escalation in the security situation in both the Gaza and West Bank, as Israeli forces continue to search for the three kidnapped Israeli teens Eyal Yifrach, Gil-Ad Shaer and Naftali Frenkel. As of now two Palestinians have been killed and hundreds arrested as the IDF crackdown on Hamas in the West Bank.
Gaza rocket (Archive: Barel Efraim)
Saturday's rocket exploded near an agricultural facility in a Hof Ashkelon Regional Council community and was preceded by a Color Red alert siren, with residents reporting hearing explosions soon after.
"There was a massive blast, I knew right away the rocket had fallen near my house," a resident said.
"It made us jump out of bed. It is very unpleasant waking up Saturday morning this way, but that is the situation in recent days. There is a tense atmosphere and almost every day you hear alert sirens in the surrounding communities. It is very concerning, I don't remember any period as tense since Operation Pillar of Defense ended" in November 2012, they added.
In the early hours of Friday, IAF fighter jets struck three hidden rocket launchers in the northern Gaza Strip, a terror activity site in the center of the Strip and a weapon storage facility in the southern strip in response to rockets fired at Israel the day before.
|IAF attack Gaza terror targets (Video: IDF)|
Gaza Health Ministry spokesman Ashraf al-Kidra said six people were lightly injured in the airstrike, including four children.
Two rockets were fired from Gaza Strip at Israel Thursday evening: At around 10 pm a rocket was fired at the southern coastal city of Ashkelon only to be intercepted by the Iron Dome missile defense system, and earlier in the day, an additional rocket was fired at Israel and exploded in an open area in the Sha'ar Hanegev Regional Council.
The IDF spokesman's office said that "the defense system believes the rocket fire from the Gaza Strip to Israel in recent days has been perpetrated by Islamic Jihad, and not by Hamas."
Israel has repeatedly said it views Hamas as being behind the kidnapping, and a majority of Operation Brother's Keeper has focused on crackdown on Hamas' operatives in the West Bank, with a number of senior figures from the movement arrested.
Hamas, which is the de facto ruler of the Gaza Strip, vowed to strike back at Israel in wake of the operation, and promised to "rain hell on Israel" should the operation continue, Hamas spokesperson Sami Abu Zuhri said.
Israel has urged Palestinian President Abbas – who has condemned the kidnappings – to cut ties with Hamas, with whom he recently formed a unity government, but Hamas officials – who for their part have slammed Abbas for cooperating with Israel – say Palestinian unity is strong.
Despite the ongoing trickle of rocket fire, Hamas is still dealing with a massive financial crisis in the Gaza Strip, and seems intent on maintaining the ceasefire reached with Israel following Operation Pillar of Defense in November 2012.
Yoav Zitun and Elior Levy contributed to this report