The IDF decided Saturday to reinforce the Iron Dome missile defense system located across southern Israel, after the communities close to the Gaza Strip border were pounded by dozens of rockets from the Palestinian enclave overnight.
A source in Jerusalem, meanwhile, warned that "Israel will respond severely to rocket fire from Gaza."
While the Hamas terror group that controls Gaza has refrained from allowing rocket fire on communities that are not adjacent to the Strip, the IDF fears that if the rocket barrages continue, they could target areas further away from the border.
Despite the concerns over further escalation, the IDF decided not to reinforce the Gaza Division, whose troops secure the area of the Gaza-Israel border fence.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had convened the security cabinet for a rare Saturday meeting, after the nightlong barrages and as clashes between Arab protesters and police continued in Jerusalem.
The meeting at the Defense Ministry headquarters in Tel Aviv included Defense Minister Benny Gantz, Public Security Minister Amir Ohana, IDF Chief of Staff Aviv Kochavi, Shin Bet Director Nadav Argaman, National Security Adviser Meir Ben-Shabbat and Israel Police Commissioner Kobi Shabtai.
"I have ordered preparations for any scenario," Netanyahu said at the end of the meeting.
Kochavi, who earlier held a situation assessment with the IDF General Staff, has ordered security forces to prepare for a possible escalation and has cancelled his trip to the U.S. next week.
Ynet analyst Ron Ben-Yishai comments that Kochavi's decision to cancel his key trip to the U.S., during which he was expected to discuss the Iran nuclear deal, is an indication that the IDF does believe that tensions will continue and may even escalate.
While it did not claim responsibility for the overnight rocket fire, Hamas test-fired four rockets into the sea of the Gaza coast on Saturday morning, saying it was an exercise aimed at improving its capabilities.
Palestinian terrorists fired at least 36 rockets from Gaza into Israeli communities overnight Friday, in one of the worst rounds of cross-border violence in months, setting off sirens across the south and sending residents scrambling for bomb shelters.
The rocket sirens blared throughout the night in the Eshkol, Sha'ar Hanegev, Sdot Negev and Hof Ashkelon regional councils and on Saturday morning they sounded in the city of Ashkelon as well.
The IDF said its aircraft and tanks retaliated by striking multiple targets belonging to Hamas, the terror group that rules Gaza, including rocket launchers, unspecified underground infrastructure and a military base.
On Saturday morning, the IDF lifted security restrictions and said that residents of the south could return to their normal routine.
Hamas said the rockets were fired in response to the recent clashes between Arabs and Jews in Jerusalem.
The terrorist group did not claim responsibility for any of the rocket fire, a small paramilitary group affiliated with the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine said it fired some of the projectiles.
Throughout Friday night, thousands marched across the Gaza Strip to call on the militant groups in the Strip to continue firing the rockets.
In Jerusalem, tensions have been higher than usual during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan. Protests turned violent on Thursday with scores of arrests and injuries.
The unrest resumed on Friday night, when Arab youths gathered outside the walled Old City and scuffled with hundreds of Israeli police in riot gear.
The protesters pelted stones at police firing water cannons while others hurled rocks at an Israeli court building and smashed security cameras.
Dozens of protesters were arrested and some 20 officers injured.
First published: 16:18 , 04.24.21