A barrage of rockets fired from Gaza landed in a slew of southern Israeli cities on Saturday night, as violence continued to escalate along the Gaza Strip border following an anti-tank missile attack against an IDF jeep earlier on Saturday.
Twenty rockets fell, according to the IDF, though Channel 10 reported a total of 25 rockets, including eight long-range rockets, landing at Ashkelon, Ashdod, Sderot, the Eshkol Regional Council area and the Be'er Tuviya area.
An additional four rockets exploded in the Eshkol Regional Council on Saturday night, Israel Radio reported. No injuries or damage were reported.
At least one of the long-range Grad rockets was intercepted near Ashdod by the Iron Dome, according to the IDF. On Saturday night, the IDF struck a terrorist cell in the northern Gaza Strip attempting to fire rockets toward Israel.
Earlier on Saturday, Palestinian terrorists in Gaza fired an anti-tank missile at an IDF jeep carrying out an ordinary patrol on the Israeli side of the border, striking the vehicle directly and injuring four soldiers.
One soldier was in serious condition with a head injury, one is moderately wounded, and two are lightly injured. They were airlifted to the Soroka University Medical Center in Beersheba.
Immediately afterwards, tanks opened fire on the area from which the missile was fired. Tanks also fired on pre-selected targets in the Sa'ajiya area of Gaza near Nahal Oz. Palestinian sources said four people were killed in the return fire, and 25 others were injured.
Following the incident, the IDF asked Gaza envelope residents in the Eshkol region and in Sha'ar Hanegev to be within 15 seconds away from shelters, Army Radio reported.
Islamic Jihad is believed to be behind the latest attack. The IDF views the incident as a severe escalation, and as part of a wider, stepped-up terrorist initiative to target its forces along the border.
IDF Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Benny Gantz is due to hold an evaluation in the coming hours. "This is the second serious incident in a few days along the border," a senior army source said.
Defense Minister Ehud Barak, responding to the anti-tank missile attack, said, "The IDF responded severely to the incident, and additional responses will be examined in the coming days. We will not accept the escalating attacks on the border."
Home Front Command Minister Avi Dichter said that Israel must restore its military deterrence against Gaza, saying that "this is an unbearable and unreasonable situation. Israel cannot accept a daily terrorist drizzle from Gaza."
Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum blamed Israel for the incident, saying, "The occupation's targeting of civilians was a grave escalation that must not pass in silence," and adding that "resistance must be reinforced in order to block the aggression."
In an separate incident at another location, four people were wounded in an Israeli air strike in the town of Khan Younis.
The incident came days after terrorists in Gaza blew up a massive tunnel they had dug from southern Gaza toward Israel. No one was injured in that incident. but a jeep that was in the area was blown sideways by the force of the explosion.
The blast may have been set off by remote control.
Earlier on Thursday, Brig.-Gen. Micky Edelstein, the new commander of the Gaza Division, led soldiers into Gaza to investigate the area, following a string of bomb attacks in recent days, including one on Tuesday that wounded three soldiers.
The soldiers uncovered several bombs after crossing the border, some of them very powerful, IDF Spokesman Brig.-Gen. Yoav Mordechai said.
“As soldiers worked to fix the fence in the area, the tunnel blew up under the [fence] route,” Mordechai said. “It was a very large explosion, leaving a four- to five-meter crater. We believe the blast is a result of the work carried out by the army west of the border, though this needs to be confirmed.”
The IDF does not yet know how the tunnel was intended to be used. “It was a very big tunnel, of the likes we haven’t seen in a long time,” Mordechai said.
On Tuesday morning, an explosion tore through the Gaza border, wounding three soldiers.
Reuters and JPost.com staff contributed to this report.