(VIDEO) Four Hamas terrorists were killed Saturday afternoon after the Air Force fired at two vehicles in Gaza City. Another nine people were wounded in the attack, Palestinian sources said.
Meanwhile, radio stations in Gaza reported that IDF Apache helicopters continued to hover above the city.
The IDF later confirmed it was behind the air strike in Gaza. According to the army’s statement, the Air Force fired at a vehicle carrying Hamas terrorists and another vehicle transporting weapons.
“We will continue to act in a determined fashion to protect the citizens of Israel,” the statement said. “The IDF views Palestinian Authority security apparatuses as responsible for the prevention and curbing of any terror activity from the (Gaza) Strip.”
Hamas will “strike at the heart of Israel,” terror group spokesman Mushir al-Masri said following the IDF strike in Gaza. “Everything is possible. We’ll hit at every spot on our occupied land, at the heart of the Zionist enemy,” he said.
The escalation in the south began early Saturday, after the Palestinians fired 30 Qassam rockets at Israeli areas, wounding three people. Friday evening, 19 Palestinians were killed and more than 80 were injured in a blast during a Hamas rally in northern Gaza.
Hamas members said Israel was behind the explosion, but the IDF denied any involvement in the blast.
Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz is delivering on his threats to unleash a wave of violence against the Palestinians, PA Deputy Prime Minister Nabil Shaath told al-Jazeera in response to the strike in Gaza.
“This act of aggression threatens the lull and also threatens to bring back to Gaza the killings and violence we thought were over,” he said.
Mofaz promises harsh response
Earlier, Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz instructed the IDF to carry out a series of "harsh and varied operations in the Gaza Strip," in response to the Qassam rocket attack on Sderot and its vicinity late Friday night.
Mofaz also instructed the army to prepare for ground operations and to deploy troops to the northern Gaza Strip border.
IDF deploys more forces in Gaza region (Photo: Ronny Sofer)
An emergency session with senior defense establishment officials, including IDF Chief of Staff Dan Halutz, was convened Saturday to evaluate the situation following the attack.
At the end of the meeting Mofaz emphasized that the Palestinians must understand Israel will not let the incident pass lightly, and that its response must be "firm and unequivocal."
Sderot residents told to remain indoors
A short time later, the IAF fired a missile at an open field in the northern Gaza Strip, where the 30 Qassams aimed at Israeli targets had been launched Friday night.
Earlier, Palestinian eyewitnesses reported the IDF had attacked three targets in Gaza City - possibly Hamas strongholds - and that loud blasts could be heard.
Aftermath of IDF strike in Gaza (Photo: Reuters)
Palestinian Internal Minister Nasser Yousef said the blasts were from the Israeli air force.
A Qassam rocket landed yet again in Sderot late Saturday morning. A passer-by was lightly injured by shrapnel, Sderot's City Hall reported. A spokesman said all residents have been told to remain in their homes.
Mofaz: Possible prolonged combat
The Defense Minister also suggested during the meeting an assaulted attack on Hamas and Islamic Jihad in the West Bank.
He ordered the army to carryout an air strike and a series of operations in the areas where the Qassams were launched.
Furthermore, a message would be relayed to the PA to demand the deployment of troops to the northern Gaza Strip to prevent further rocket fire.
Earlier it was reported that the IDF began moving troops towards the northern Gaza Strip, in a bid to carry out a ground operation against those who fired the rockets.
"The fact that 30 Qassam rockets were fired over the past day and five people were injured calls for a harsh response," IDF officials told Ynet. "No final decision regarding a response has been made."
They added that "The IDF is carrying out various operations in the West Bank."
The IDF closed off the Judea, Samaria, Jordan Valley and Gaza Strip areas, following the attack.
Mofaz also told IDF commanders to prepare troops for possible prolonged combat if needed.
"Hamas' attempt to turn the attention around from yesterday's blast at the rally where 19 Palestinians were killed by their own people is unforgivable, unacceptable and will not pass lightly," Mofaz said.
Qassam attack during the night
About 30 Qassam rockets were fired late Friday night from the Gaza Strip into Israeli territory.
One rocket landed in the Shaar Hanegev area, moderately injuring one person and lightly wounding two others.
About 26 rockets were fired at Sderot, two over Nahal Oz, one over Kibbutz Raim and another at the Kissufim crossing, where damage was caused to property.
Four Sderot residents were treated for shock and damage was caused to a number of structures in the southern town.
The air force launched an air strike in response, firing missiles at Hamas structures in the Gaza Strip.
According to the IDF, the structures served as factories and warehouses for weaponry production. No injuries were reported in the attack.
- Efrat Weiss and AFP contributed to the report