2 killed as Gaza rockets slam into southern Israel
Ashkelon hospital also sustains direct hit; IDF deploys Armored Corps brigade 'preparing for escalation'; IAF striking homes of mid-level Hamas, Jihad commanders; IDF denies killing woman and baby, says deaths caused by Gaza rocket; some 450 rockets fired at Israeli communities since Saturday morning
Two people were killed Sunday when rockets fired from Gaza hit a factory in Ashkelon and a car near Sderot in quick succession, as a massive barrage against southern and central Israel continued for a second day. The deaths came hours after a man was killed in rocket fire near his home in Ashkelon.
Two other people were badly wounded when a rocket slammed into the Ashkelon factory, killing a 22-year-old man. Near Sderot, a 60-year-old driver was discovered at the side of the road in his burning car, and rushed to hospital in critical condition, but was pronounced dead a short time later.
An earlier rocket strike on Ashkelon claimed the life of 58-year-old father of four Moshe Agadi.
Barzilai hospital in Ashkelon also sustained a direct hit to its oncology unit, but there were no injuries.
Bracing for further escalation with Gaza, the Israel Defense Forces ordered the deployment of a brigade from the Armored Corps along the border on Sunday morning, after a weekend of violence in which 450 rockets were launched at Israel. The IDF retaliated with a wave of air strikes against terror targets that was still continuing Sunday.
"We are preparing for several days like this," said IDF Spokesman Brig. Gen. Ronen Manelis, several hours after 58-year-old Moshe Agadi was killed by a rocket in Ashkelon – the first Israeli fatality in rocket fire since the 2014 Gaza war.
"The enemy has fired about 450 rockets at Israel, mainly by Hamas and the Islamic Jihad in a coordinated manner," said Manelis. "We have intercepted more than 150 rockets in several built-up areas. Civilians are required to act when the sirens sound as part of the layers of defense provided by the IDF. It has proven itself to save lives. More than 70% of the rocket fire (has hit) open areas. "
"We gave an order to deploy a brigade that will mobilize in the coming hours," Manelis said, adding that the brigade will join the Gaza Division "as an available offensive force and not to reinforce defenses."
Manelis said that the army has so far attacked more than 220 terrorist targets since the round of violence began.
"We are attacking launch squads, and three terrorists have been killed in these attacks. We struck two such squads at night and another squad this morning. The IDF does not recognize and is not dealing with any ceasefire - the deployment is for several days and under these circumstances."
The general also denied Gazan claims that IDF fire had killed a mother and her baby, saying that they had been caught up in a failed rocket launch by Palestinians militants.
"The mother and daughter who were killed yesterday in Gaza were killed by the use of weapons in Gaza and not by our attack," he said. "They were apparently killed by the failed launch of a rocket that exploded close by in the eastern part of the city, near the border."
Manelis said that the army was also targeting installations in Gaza, which he called "real estate targets with terrorist infrastructure, including high-rise buildings."
He said that the IDF had also struck "an underground site for the manufacture of weapons, as well as stores of small and specialist anti-tank and naval weaponry."
The general said that no civilians were harmed when the IDF took out weapon caches hidden in their homes.
Since the early hours of Sunday, the Israel Air Force has been striking the private homes of the mid-level Hamas and Islamic Jihad commanders. According to the IDF, more than 30 houses were being targeted across the Strip, including in areas such as Khan Yunis and Rafah in the south and Shati in the north. Some of the houses contained weaponry, the army said.
The IDF said that it is taking the approach that those who command rocket fire against Israeli homes will not find a home of their own to return to.
Following Manelis' comments, Hamas hardened its own position, declaring itself "ready to fight until the last moment."
The Islamic Jihad also struck a defiant note, vowing that "the Palestinian resistance will not give up its right to respond to Israel's crimes and to protect our people - children, babies, women and old people - whose blood is spilled by terrorist murderers... We will resist forcefully until the aggression stops."