The air force struck 29 targets across the Gaza Strip by press time on Wednesday night in response to a large-scale Islamic Jihad rocket attack on the South.
The bombardment of the western Negev marks the largest flare-up of Gazan terrorism since 2012.
At least 60 rockets – fired in simultaneous barrages from northern and southern Gaza – exploded in Israeli territory.
The Iron Dome anti-rocket battery stationed in Sderot shot down three projectiles over the town.
Eight rockets exploded in built-up areas, but none caused injuries, the army said.
IDF tanks on the Gaza border struck two terrorist targets inside the Strip soon after the rocket attacks.
Senior IDF commanders held an evaluation meeting, including Deputy Chief of Staff Maj.- Gen. Gadi Eizenkot; the head of the air force, Maj.-Gen. Amir Eshel; Military Intelligence head Maj.-Gen. Aviv Kochavi; and OC Southern Command Maj.-Gen. Sami Turgeman.
Eizenkot is the acting chief of staff in place of Lt.-Gen. Benny Gantz, who is in the US.
The two men remained in touch throughout Wednesday evening.
The rocket attack was the biggest on Israel since the eight-day Operation Pillar of Defense conflict with Gazan terrorist groups in November 2012, and it sent residents of Gaza-border communities fleeing for cover after consecutive rocket alerts.
“This began yesterday, when an Islamic Jihad cell fired on our force that was operating on the security fence with Gaza,” a military source said on Wednesday. The IAF immediately returned fire after Tuesday’s mortar attack, killing three Islamic Jihad members.
On Wednesday, officials from the IDF’s Home Front Command and Southern Command met with local government representatives in the South to discuss safety instructions.
For now, the army said, residents of the Gaza-border region are advised to remain close to safety zones.
Defense officials signaled that the IDF would carry out a significant retaliation.
“We have no intention of ignoring any fire directed at us,” Turgeman told local government officials.
Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon said Israel would not go back to its daily routine.
“We will not allow Islamic Jihad or any other element in the Strip to disrupt life in the South,” he said. “It won’t be quiet in Gaza either, in a way that will cause Islamic Jihad terrorists to regret the attacks they carried out.
“Hamas is responsible for what occurs in Gaza, and it, too, will have to take into account the fact that we won’t tolerate fire at us,” he continued.
“If it does not know how to enforce the quiet, it, too, will pay a heavy price.”
Islamic Jihad took responsibility for Wednesday’s attacks, claiming that more than 90 rockets and shells had been fired at Israel, a spokesman for the group’s armed wing, al-Quds Brigades, told Palestinian news agency Ma’an.
“You haven’t yet seen the extent of our capabilities,” added the spokesman, who threatened longer-range rocket strikes on Israel if the IDF retaliated.
The IDF closed the Kerem Shalom crossing into southern Gaza, and reduced traffic in the northern Erez crossing.
Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman said Israel should retake the Gaza Strip.
“We cannot just let this pass,” he told Channel 2. “An attack like this, after operations like Pillar of Defense and Cast Lead [in December 2008-January 2009], leave no alternative other than the full occupation of the Gaza Strip, cleaning it out, and only then looking for a solution with the Egyptians. I am talking about the full occupation of Gaza.”
Thousands of missiles are hidden in Gaza, and the terrorist organizations are increasing their rocket manufacturing capabilities, Liberman said.
“There is a need to put an end to this,” he said. “The citizens of the South cannot be allowed to be hostages in the hands of the terrorists.”
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, asked about Liberman’s comments at a press conference, did not endorse them, saying that he would not get into “operational details.”
The United States condemned the rocket fire and backed Israel’s right to retaliate against the perpetrators.
“We call for these attacks to cease immediately,” a State Department official told The Jerusalem Post, condemning the barrage “in the strongest of terms.
“Israel, like any nation, has a right to defend itself against such provocative attacks,” the official said.
Michael Wilner in Washington contributed to this report.