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(photo credit: AP [file])
Hamas flexed its muscles Tuesday night and fired two rockets into Beersheba as Defense Minister Ehud Barak asked for government approval to call up an additional 2,500 reservists ahead of a planned ground operation in the Gaza Strip.
One of the Katyusha rockets struck a kindergarten in Beersheba, causing damage. Another rocket hit outside the city in an open field.
The IDF bombed the launcher of the Grad-model rockets afterward, as well as the cell responsible. The army said it successfully hit its target.
Defense officials had warned that Hamas had the ability to fire rockets into Beersheba - located some 40 kilometers from Gaza - but Tuesday night's attack was the first time the city's 200,000 residents came under Hamas rocket fire.
Earlier, rockets struck Ashdod and Ashkelon, where two people were killed in attacks on Monday. Grad-model Katyushas also hit open fields near Kiryat Malachi.
In total, more than 50 rockets struck the South on Tuesday, with one scoring a direct hit on a home in Sderot. No one was wounded in the attack, as the family had taken refuge in a nearby secure room.
The IAF, meanwhile, continued to bomb Gaza, hitting over 30 targets in addition to several dozen tunnels under the Philadelphi Corridor on the Gaza-Egypt border. IDF sources said the tunnels had been used by Hamas to smuggle weapons and terrorists into the Gaza Strip. On Sunday the air force bombed some 40 smuggling tunnels.
On Tuesday night, Barak sent Cabinet Secretary Ovad Yehezkel a letter asking him to hold a phone vote among members of the cabinet to approve an IDF request to issue emergency call-up orders for an additional 2,500 reservists. On Sunday, the cabinet gave the IDF approval to call up 6,500 reservists.
Defense officials said it was likely that a ground operation would be launched in the next few days to keep up the momentum of the aerial bombardment of Gaza that started Saturday.
Earlier Monday, the IAF struck two targets in Gaza City and Khan Yunis. One of the targets was a Hamas police station. Overnight Monday, at least 10 people were killed and 40 others were wounded when IAF planes bombed a series of targets in the Strip, Palestinian sources said, bringing the death toll to over 380 Palestinians since Operation Cast Lead began.
The IDF confirmed air strikes against dozens of targets in the central Gaza town of El-Bureij (near Khan Yunis) and in Gaza City, including the Hamas Interior Ministry, Foreign Ministry and Treasury, as well as the office of Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh.
On Tuesday, IDF Chief of General Staff Lt.-Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi appeared in public for the first time since the operation began, and declared, "Difficult times are awaiting us. I am sure we will overcome them."
Speaking at a joint press conference Tuesday afternoon with President Shimon Peres at the Kirya military headquarters in Tel Aviv, Ashkenazi praised the forces participating in Operation Cast Lead, which he said was aimed at "creating a better security reality for the residents of southern Israel."
He also thanked the public for supporting the operation, and expressed appreciation of southern residents, who were "living under constant threat" and providing important support to the operation, "which extends our endurance."
Ashkenazi added that he was "very pleased with the operation at this point."
Earlier Tuesday afternoon during a tour of Ashkelon, Barak said that military action against Hamas would continue until all of the operation's goals were met.
The defense minister said the operation would intensify "as much as needed to meet the goals we set for ourselves - to bring quiet to the South."
He added, "We expect more difficult days ahead which will test civilians' endurance."
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