Most Hamas gunmen in Gaza have gone into hiding on Wednesday for fear of a harsh Israeli response to the heavy rocket and mortar barrages emanating from the Strip, Ynet has learned.
All exposed Hamas structures, including police stations and government buildings, have been abandoned.
On Wednesday evening the Israeli Air Force targeted a terror cell that was apparently preparing to launch mortar shells from northern Gaza. The attack, which came after dozens of Qassams and mortars were fired toward Ashkelon and the Gaza-vicinity communities, left a Hamas gunmen dead and four other Palestinians wounded.
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Palestinian sources said the strike was carried out by a helicopter, which fired three missiles toward a cell belonging to the Izz al-Din al-Qassam Brigades, Hamas' armed wing.
"The Izz al-Din Brigade's artillery unit is operating with the intent to fulfill its obligation to defend the Palestinian people and face the Zionist enemy's arrogance," Hamas said in a statement.
"Since the morning hours the unit has fired dozens of shells and rockets at (IDF) outposts and the Zionist enemy's communities that surround Gaza. This embarrassed the occupational regime and caused it to raise the alert level among its cowardly troops and convene its weak cabinet to discuss desperate acts to end to rocket fire," the group said.
Due to the escalation, Israel's security establishment has decided to activate an alert system that warns of incoming projectiles in additional towns, including Ashdod, Ofakim Rahat, Hatzerim and Kiryat Malachi.
Meanwhile, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon condemned the rocket fire towards Israel and called on Hamas to promise that the fire would cease immediately.
Ban expressed concern over the situation in Gaza and the south, and said more violence would lead to needless civilian suffering.
Yitzhak Benhorin contributed to the report