At least four rockets were fired at the southern city of Ashdod on Saturday night, as Hamas and Islamic Jihad made good on an earlier threat to strike further distances from the Gaza Strip if Israel did not halt its air strikes on the coastal enclave. The Iron Dome missile defense system brought down the rockets.
A short time later, rockets were fired at the southern city of Be'er Sheva. Iron Dome was also deployed in the area. A Ynetnews editor who lives in Be'er Sheva said rockets both fell in open areas and were brought down by Iron Dome. Two people were hurt by shrapnel in the Bedouin town of Laqiya, in the Be'er Sheva area.
According to the IDF, more than 250 rockets were fired at Israel from the Gaza Strip on Saturday. In Gaza, a mother and her baby were reported to have been killed in an IDF air strike.
Three people, including an elderly woman, were wounded Saturday by rocket fire, and dozens more were treated for shock.
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.
Egypt reportedly stepped up its efforts to halt the escalating violence between Israel and Gaza on Saturday evening, even as sirens and rocket barrages from Gaza continued unabated, and as the IDF continued to strike targets in the Strip.
A source in Gaza said that Egyptian efforts to end the violence, which also reportedly include UN special envoy Nickolay Mladenov, were making progress.
"Even as the exchange of fire is worsening, the contacts in Cairo between the Hamas and Islamic Jihad delegations and Egyptian intelligence are becoming more intense," the source said. "There is progress in the talks and they are being conducted in a positive manner."
An Israeli security source said, however, that no such discussions on the issue were taking place.
As the violence continued Saturday, the Israel Air Force attacked more than 120 targets in the Gaza Strip and even escalated its operations Saturday evening by bombing a six-story building in the Rimal neighborhood of Gaza City that housed the Hamas Prisoner Affairs Ministry, as well as the Hamas military intelligence building.
The baby girl was killed during one of the Israeli attacks, and a few hours later, it was reported that her mother had also died.
Following the destruction of the Rimal building, the military wings of the Palestinian terror groups said that rocket fire at Ashkelon, Ofakim and Kiryat Gat was a response to the bombing. The groups also said that further air strikes would lead to greater rocket fire.
"If Israel continues bombing, we will increase the range to Ashdod and Be'er Sheva," the groups said.
A Palestinian source in the Gaza Strip also said that the Islamic Jihad delegation to Cairo included the commander of the northern brigade of the organization's military wing, Baha Abu al-Ata.
He was invited to Cairo after the launch of a rocket from Gaza that exploded at sea earlier this week, and his identity was revealed by the IDF. He left the Gaza Strip with the delegation on Wednesday.
Earlier, a joint statement by the Gaza organizations' military wings said that they would step up the rocket fire should the IDF continue the air strikes.
"We are tracking Israel's movements and its commitment to end its aggression against the residents of the Gaza Strip, and we will respond accordingly to such aggression," groups said.
"We warn Israel that our response will be more extreme and broader if it continues its attacks. We will continue to serve as the defender and guardian of our people and our land."