Three people, including an elderly woman, were wounded Saturday as Israel was pounded by a massive rocket barrage from the Gaza Strip. The Israel Defense Forces said Saturday evening that some 200 rockets had been fired at the country during the day, and that it had responded with aerial bombardments across Gaza.
The escalation began on Friday, when two Israeli soldiers were wounded by Gaza gunfire near the border. A retaliatory Israeli air strike killed two militants from the Islamist Hamas group that governs Gaza. Two other Palestinians protesting near the frontier were also killed by IDF forces.
In Kiryat Gat, an 80-year-old woman was seriously wounded Saturday by shrapnel from a rocket. In Ashkelon, a 49-year-old man was moderately hurt from shrapnel wounds to the hands and legs.
Also in Ashkelon, a 35-year-old man was moderately hurt when a rocket hit a home in the southern city. The Magen David Adom rescue service said that the man was wounded in the upper body and taken to Barzilai Hospital.
It was the not the first time Saturday that an Israeli home was hit by rocket fire. Other residences were damaged by rocket fire on Kibbutz Nahal Oz and in Hof Ashkelon regional council. The home's dwellers in the latter ran for their shelter and none were hurt.
Several buildings were damaged in the city of Sderot and in several other Gaza border communities. One rocket landed near a kindergarten in Shaar HaNegev, close to the border with Gaza.
Rockets were continually launched from the Gaza Strip throughout Saturday, with long-range missiles targeting communities in the central region. Sirens blared through communuties in the south and center, as far as Rehovot, some 30km from Tel Aviv and Beit Shemesh, approximately 20km from Jerusalem.
The Iron Dome missile defense system intercepted dozens of rockets on Saturday, the arny said.
The military closed civilian access to several roads and hills near the Gaza Strip border on Saturday.
Multiple Israeli local authorities opened public bomb shelters amid the ongoing rocket fire, including Mateh Yehuda, Yavne, Be'er Sheva and Ashdod.
Restrictions on the size of public gatherings has also been imposed in some areas, and the airspace up to 10 kilometers from the Gaza border was closed until Sunday. Activity at Israel's Ben-Gurion International Airport continued as scheduled.
Ashdod Mayor Yehiel Lasri said Saturday that the southern city was on full emergency footing in the wake of the barrage of rockets.
"We are very experienced (in dealing with Gaza fire)," Lasri told Ynet, "our residents know how to act."
UN Mideast envoy Nickolay Mladenov, meanwhile, was working on reaching a ceasefire between Israel and Hamas amid the escalating violence, foreign diplomatic sources said.
The ceasfire efforts also involve Egyptian mediators credited with brokering a ceasefire after a Hamas rocket attack north of Tel Aviv in March triggered a burst of intense fighting.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu held an emergency security assessment Saturday afternoon, arriving at the Defense Ministry headquarters in Tel Aviv to meet with senior defense and cabinet officials.
IDF hits Gaza
IDF jets and combat helicopters continued a wave of air strikes on what it said were terror targets in the Gaza Strip on Saturday afternoon. The army said Saturday that it was preparing to expand its raids in the Strip.
The IDF said its forces had carried out attacks against more than 30 targets belonging to Hamas and Islamic Jihad terror groups, including facilities used for the manufacturing of arms and a joint facility for both organizations.
A building used by Hamas' naval forces was also attacked. The IDF Spokesperson's Unit said the army is "ready to go on as long as needed."
A small armed pro-Hamas group in Gaza, The Protectors of Al-Aqsa, said one of its men was killed in an air strike on Saturday.
The Health Ministry in the Hamas-run enclave said six Palestinians were wounded. Residents identified two of them as militants. The Palestinian Education Ministry said it was evacuating schools in areas under Israeli bombardment.
Hamas announced it is prepared to respond to "Israel's crimes" and "will not allow Palestinian blood to be shed." The announcement also said Hamas is committed to the protection of their people and the continuation of the March of Return.
Israel closed the Kerem Shalom and Erez Gaza border crossings Saturday as the violence spiraled. The army also halted fishing off the Gaza coast, which had been expanded as a gesture following the previous round of fighting in March.
The flare-up comes days before Israelis celebrate Independence Day and Muslims begin the holy month of Ramadan.
Israel is also due to host the 2019 Eurovision song contest finals in less than two weeks in Tel Aviv, towards which long-range rockets were launched in mid-March.
The Iran-backed Islamic Jihad released a statement directly threating the contest, vowing to "prevent the enemy from holding a festival whose purpose is to undermine the Palestinian narrative."
"The civilians (of Israel) are destined to hell for the continual expansion of the Israeli aggression towards our people and our resistance," said the statement.
"We say to the decision-makers in Israel: do not dream of having quiet while the Palestinian people pay the price. The resistance is committed to respond to the enemy’s aggression and to surprise him."
One IDF soldier was lightly wounded from shooting fragments in Friday's riots, while the other was moderately wounded from a bullet to the thigh. The IDF reacted with tank fire.
During Friday clashes on the border fence in the Strip's south, one Palestinian was killed from IDF fire, and a second was injured and died of his wound during the night.
An overnight Air Force strike that killed two targeted a Hamas military facility; a Hamas statement said the casualties belonged to its ranks, and that one was an area commander and the second a lower rank militant.