Fresh rocket, mortar barrage brings total to 72; 5 hurt

Hamas claims responsibility for rockets; IAF strikes terrorist squads, killing 4 Hamas members; southern municipalities cancel school; Iron Dome successfully intercepts eight Grad rockets fired at South.

House damaged in rocket attack 390 (photo credit: IDF Spokesman's Office)
House damaged in rocket attack 390
(photo credit: IDF Spokesman's Office)
Palestinians fired eight rockets and mortar shells into the Ashkelon Regional Council on Wednesday afternoon, the latest in a barrage of rockets raining down on southern Israel since Tuesday night.
The Iron Dome successfully intercepted a Grad rocket, the eight it has struck down since Tuesday night. 
Palestinian terrorists fired 67 rockets and mortar shells into southern Israel since Wednesday morning, injuring five and sending local residents fleeing for cover.
IAF strikes targeting Palestinian rocket-launching squads killed four Hamas operatives but did little to stem the flow of rockets.
Hamas's armed wing, the Al-Qassam brigades, took responsibility Wednesday for both a barrage of rockets unleashed against Israel since Tuesday night and the bomb that critically injured an IDF officer along the Gaza border on Tuesday. The Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) took responsibility for the Gaza border bomb.
In a statement posted on its website, Hamas said it was responsible for rockets, which it said were a response to IDF air strikes from 7:00 to 7:30 a.m. on Wednesday. It also said that on Tuesday it "detonated a roadside bomb near Israeli infantry soldiers east of Khanyounis city."
Of the projectiles fired by the terrorists, 22 landed in the Eshkol region while 21 landed in the Lachish region, according to the Israel Police. An additional 10 rockets landed in the South on Wednesday morning. The Iron Dome intercepted seven Grad rockets, according to the IDF. The barrage followed 10 rockets fired on Tuesday evening, making a total of 77. Five homes were damaged, according to Israel Radio.
Of the five injured, three were foreign workers, two of whom suffered critical injuries and were evacuated via helicopter to Soroka Medical Center. The others were either lightly injured or being treated for shock, according to Israel Radio.
IDF Home Front command instructed residents living within 10 km of Gaza to remain indoors and take shelter.
Air raid sirens went off during the attacks and local residents fled for cover. Southern municipalities canceled schools amid the ongoing escalation. Police have heightened patrols around Gaza in the south, including bomb sappers to deal with the heightened threat.
The IAF carried out an air strike around 7 a.m. Wednesday morning following three operations overnight, each striking rocket-launching cells in the northern and southern Gaza Strip. Hamas said that four of its operatives were killed in the strikes, and another three injured. The IDF also launched tank fire at targets in southern Gaza on Wednesday morning.
On Tuesday, Palestinian terrorists detonated an explosive on the Gaza-Israel border, seriously injuring an IDF company commander.
The explosive was placed on a gate in the Kissufim region, near Kibbutz Ein Hashlosha.
Army paramedics administered first aid, before airlifting the officer, in very serious condition, to the Soroka University Medical Center in Beersheba. Doctors battled to stabilize him.
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu warned that Israel’s response to the bomb attack would be “very hard,” while Barak characterized the attack as a “severe incident.”
The Kissufim region, which borders central Gaza, has become a daily combat zone between Hamas and its affiliated terror groups and the IDF.
Palestinian factions regularly plant bombs along the border, fire mortar shells at army positions, and terrorize Israeli farmers with rocket attacks.
Herb Keinon contributed to this report