The IDF estimates that some 100 rockets have been fired at Israel since Friday. Meanwhile, a new Israeli air strike in Gaza killed two Palestinians riding on a motorcyle, Hamas officials and medics said on Saturday.
The attack followed the firing of rockets at Israel at the weekend, raises the death toll in escalating violence since Friday to 15.
- South under fire; IDF kills 12 terrorists
- 2 killed in Gaza strike, including terror chief
- Hamas forms covert terror faction
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu spoke over the phone with Ashkelon Mayor Benny Vaknin following the escalation in the south. Netanyahu expressed support and interest in the well-being of Ashkelon residents suffering from the ongoing rocket attacks on the city.
IDF Chief of Staff Benny Gantz held a special situation assessment on Saturday given the recent rocket attacks in the south. Officials decided that the IDF will respond with determination to any attack on Israel. The officials also praised the Iron Dome system which successfully managed to intercept rockets fired at southern communities.
Deputy IDF chief, Southern Command head, an Air Force official, Home Front Command head, Operational Branch head, IDF spokesman all took part in the meeting.
The Iron Dome has successfully intercepted 27 out of 30 rockets fired at Beersheba, Ashdod and Ashkelon. The other two rockets exploded in open fields.
These are the highest success rates for the defense system to date. Gantz praised the IDF officials in charge of operating the system during the situation assessment.
A Home Front Command official said: "The Command's instructions have proven to save lives and they should be followed. When an alarm is sounded or if there is an explosion – enter a safety area." Israelis are also instructed to avoid large gatherings of more than 500.
Iron Dome in action (Photo: Avi Manor)
Beersheba Mayor Ruvik Danilovich addressed the ongoing rocket fire on Saturday, saying: "This escalation cannot be ignored." He added that he fully backs the government's decision to green light targeted killings against terror cell leaders planning a terror attack in Israel.
"These terrorists must understand they bear the responsibility," Danilovich emphasized. "Even if it causes tensions now, in the long run it will cause deterrence."
Ashdod reported that the Iron Dome intercepted two rockets. The rocket fire continued throughout the night as two rockets fired at Beersheba from northern Gaza. One of the projectiles landed within city limits. No injuries or damage were reported.
In the early evening hours, the Iron Dome rocket defense system intercepted at least four Grad rockets fired at the southern communities of Ashdod, Gan Yavne and Kiryat Malachi.
The Color Red alert sounded in the Ashdod region immediately after the long-range rockets were fired, prompting residents to rush into bomb shelters and secured rooms. At least one rocket landed in an open area in the city's vicinity.
IDF kills terror chief
Earlier Saturday, Gaza sources claimed 12 Palestinians have been killed in IDF attacks overnight, including a commander of the terrorist group behind the abduction of Gilad Shalit, an Israeli soldier who was held captive for more than five years and freed in a prisoner swap for more than 1,000 Palestinians.
The Israeli military said it initially targeted Zuhair al-Qaissi, the commander of the armed wing of the Popular Resistance Committee, a large terrorist group closely aligned with Gaza's Hamas rulers. The explosion tore apart al-Qaissi's blue sedan and killed his son-in-law, Mahmoud Hanini - himself a top PRC field commander.
Four people were injured in Eshkol Regional Council, including one critical injury and another mildly injured.
According to the IDF, shortly after midnight, the IAF targeted two terror cells gearing to fire rockets at Israel, killing two terrorists. Palestinian sources said at least two people were killed in the strike, near the Palestinian parliament in central Gaza City.
Neri Brenner, Yoav Zitun, Elior Levy, Reuters, AFP and AP contributed to this report
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