Israel vowed to retaliate for rocket attacks against Beersheba and Ashkelon on Wednesday as Hamas evacuated most of its manned positions throughout the Gaza Strip in anticipation of IDF air strikes.

At 5:30 Wednesday morning the first Grad-model Katyusha rocket slammed into Beersheba for the first time in almost a month, lightly wounding one person.

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Several hours later, another rocket hit the Negev city.

Yet another rocket landed south of Ashkelon on Wednesday, a day after a rocket fell near Ashdod.


Authorities announced that schools would be closed in Beersheba, Ashdod and Ashkelon on Thursday as a result of the security situation.

Also Wednesday, seven mortar shells containing white phosphorous hit the Eshkol region, followed shortly after by three more near a kibbutz in the Sha’ar Hanegev region. The IAF later destroyed the launcher that was used to fire the rocket into Ashdod.

The Al-Quds Brigades of Islamic Jihad claimed responsibility for the missile fire, which came after Israel killed four terror operatives in a missile strike on Tuesday night. The four were behind the firing of two Katyusha rockets into Beersheba in late February, the IDF said.

Fearing a further escalation, the IDF Home Front Command ordered residents in Beersheba, Ashkelon and Ashdod to stay close to their homes and near bomb shelters, out of concern that additional rockets will be fired in the coming days from the Gaza Strip.

“The IDF will continue to act to protect Israeli citizens and will take preemptive action along the Gaza border,” Defense Minister Ehud Barak said. “There will be highs and lows; not everything will end tomorrow, but we are determined to restore quiet and security to the South.”

Meanwhile, police in the South increased the number of officers and patrol cars on the streets, in response to the threat of further rockets and shells from Gaza.

On Wednesday, the IDF’s Gaza Coordination and Liaison Administration coordinated the transfer of an 8-year-old Palestinian boy from the Gaza Strip to Kaplan Hospital in Rehovot after he was injured in an Israeli mortar attack on Tuesday.

The boy was injured after IDF troops fired mortar shells into an open field in northern Gaza and accidentally hit a number of civilians nearby, killing four members of a family and wounding several others, including the boy, who was transferred Wednesday to Israel for medical treatment.

Yaakov Lappin contributed to this report.

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