Four additional rockets were fired at Ashkelon Friday and three were intercepted by the Iron Dome defense system, the IDF announced, adding that it had bombed the terror cell that had fired the rockets, identifying a direct hit.
Hamas announced a short while later that two of the organization's gunmen were killed in the airstrikes. One of the men was Rayid Shehadeh, a commander in the military wing. Three civilians have also been killed, among them a mother and daughter, according to Gazan sources.
Two mortar shells also exploded Friday evening in a kibbutz in Shaar Hanegev Regional Council. No injuries were reported but a residential structure was damaged.
Terrorists in Gaza continued rocket fire towards Israel throughout Friday, hitting chicken coops as well as a factory and causing serious damage. Eleven mortar shells were also fired throughout the afternoon and early evening.
At around 5:45 pm, residents of Ashkelon witnessed loud explosions. A number of them wrote to Ynet that they had seen Iron Dome intercept rockets in the sky.
The system was installed just Monday, and made its first interception Thursday evening. Defense Minister Ehud Barak praised the successful interceptions by Iron Dome, calling them "an extraordinary achievement of the Israeli defense industry".
"The experiment will continue, but we must remember that we are still far from a solution," he added.
The IDF said earlier that Air Force craft bombed two terror cells in the southern Gaza Strip, east of Khan Younis. "The terrorists were firing mortar shells from the heart of a civilian neighborhood in the southern Strip," the army said in a statement.
Altogether 24 mortar shells and six Qassam rockets were fired at Israel by Friday evening.
The army added that apparently civilians had been harmed in its retaliatory strikes. "Hamas chooses to operate from within civilian populations and uses them as human shields," the statement says.
Rescue forces in Gaza claim that the civilians killed in Gaza are a 20-year old woman and her mother, as well as a 55-year old man. Three people were also injured, according to sources.
'I built one coop myself'
In another strike that was executed Friday afternoon, IAF jets bombed smuggling tunnels in Rafah. Palestinian sources reported that a fire broke out in the area, and postulate that the bomb hit a pipeline through which fuel was being smuggled.
Yair Farjoun, head of Hof Ashkelon Regional Council, said he believes the army should respond to the fire of additional mortars Friday afternoon as it did to the missile fire at the school bus Thursday.
"We have 20km of road that can be seen quite well from Gaza's higher buildings," he said. "We don’t want to start thinking that every car or bus that passes by will become a Palestinian target. The defense establishment will have to respond severely to this fire."
Seven of the mortar shells fired Friday exploded in a town close to the border fence, and four additional shells fell in the area. The damage done to a factory in the south is attributed to a Qassam rocket, which authorities say damaged infrastructure.
But by far the most extensive damage was done to a number of chicken coops. "I built one of the coops by hand, and it will need to be rebuilt," said Hashi Rubin, of the kibbutz in which the mortars exploded.
Head of the Eshkol Regional Council, Haim Yalin, said that the attacks were "well-coordinated". He complimented southern residents, among them students at the Nitzanei Eshkol School, who were ordered to rush home when the barrage of mortars began.
"The residents behaved in a model fashion. The students remained in their classrooms for an hour together with their teachers, who quickly realized that the school was the safest place to be. I hope the government brings calm and stability, because this is not what the residents of the Gaza vicinity deserve," he said.
Kids prepare gift baskets for troops
The Iron Dome missile defense system, which intercepted its first rocket Thursday, was not activated by the mortars. But on Thursday, after the successful interception, students from Sinai elementary school in Ashkelon decided to thank soldiers with gift baskets.
Sinai elementary school pupils in Ashkelon (Photo: Ran Yadei)
Ran Yadei, a parent of a student in the sixth grade, told Ynet that the soldiers stationed in Ashkelon and guarding the city 24 hours a day deserve a treat.
"We wanted to express the gratitude of the residents of Ashkelon and the entire south to all of those busy with the task of defending us from rockets," he said.
The IDF retaliated, bombing terror cells as well as smuggling tunnels throughout the night and Friday morning. Altogether 10 Palestinians have been killed so far in the strikes.
Ilana Curiel and Elior Levy contributed to this report
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