Another wave of Palestinian rockets hit the South on Saturday evening, hours after an anti-tank missile fired from Gaza wounded four soldiers as they patrolled the border.
The Palestinian violence threatened to escalate into a major round of fighting, as Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu met with Defense Minister Ehud Barak and military chiefs to discuss Israel’s next steps.
Over 30 rockets and several mortar shells pounded the South, triggering air raid sirens in Ashkelon, Ashdod, Gan Yavne and smaller communities.The rockets included eight long-range rockets, landing at Ashkelon, Ashdod, Sderot, the Eshkol Regional Council area and the Be'er Tuviya area.
The IDF confirmed a retaliatory air strike in the north of the narrow coastal enclave late on Saturday night.
"A short while ago, the IDF targeted a rocket launching squad in the northern Gaza Strip moments after it fired rockets towards southern Israel. A direct hit was confirmed," the IDF announced.
The Iron Dome anti-rocket system intercepted at least one rocket headed for Ashdod, while another rocket hit north of the city, failing to cause injuries or damages. The blasts were heard for many kilometers around.
Gan Yavne canceled school for Sunday and other regional councils were deliberating whether to take similar steps.
Earlier, terrorists in Gaza, believed to be from Islamic Jihad, fired an anti-tank missile at an IDF jeep on a routine patrol on the Israeli side of the border near Kibbutz Nahal Oz, hitting the vehicle directly, and wounding four soldier from the Givati Brigade.
One soldier was in serious condition with a head injury, two were moderately wounded, and one was lightly wounded, the IDF said. They were airlifted to the Soroka University Medical Center in Beersheba for emergency treatment.
Immediately after the attack, IDF tanks stationed near Gaza opened fire on the area from which the missile was fired.
The tanks followed up with fire on preselected targets in the Sa’ajiya area of Gaza near Nahal Oz. Palestinian sources said four people were killed in the return fire, and others were injured.
The sources said a crowded mourning tent in the Sa’ajiya neighborhood was full of people paying respects to a bereaved family man when a tank shell exploded. Ambulances, private vehicles and motorbikes rushed the wounded to hospital, eyewitnesses said. Among those killed was an 18-year-old man.
“The occupation’s targeting of civilians was a grave escalation that must not pass in silence,” said Fawzi Barhoum of Hamas. “Resistance must be reinforced in order to block the aggression.”
On Thursday, Israeli gunfire killed a 12-year-old Gazan boy as troops fought a gun battle with Palestinians.
The IDF views the jeep attack as a severe escalation, and as part of a wider, stepped-up terrorist initiative to target its forces along the border.
“This is the second serious incident in a few days along the border,” a senior army source said.
Barak 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.”
The jeep attack 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 explosion, but a jeep that was in the area was blown sideways by the force of the blast. It was likely set off by remote control, and the IDF now believes that Hamas was behind that attack.
“The Strip is being run without any real authority,” Homeland Security Minister Avi Dichter said. “Every terrorist organization that feels like it carries out attacks against Israel, targeting civilians and soldiers. This is an intolerable situation. Israel can’t accept this daily terrorist drizzle from Gaza. Israel must reshape its military deterrence.”
Jpost.com Staff and Reuters contributed to this report.