Gazans fire 80 rockets at Israel in 24 hours

Two foreign workers severely wounded; IAF kills three members of rocket-launching crew; sides said to be negotiating cease-fire through Egyptian mediator.

House damaged in rocket attack 390 (photo credit: IDF Spokesman's Office)
House damaged in rocket attack 390
(photo credit: IDF Spokesman's Office)
Eighty rockets and mortar shells hit the western Negev on Wednesday, in the second day of one of the most severe rocket barrages on southern Israel in recent years.
Late Wednesday night, a Palestinian official said Egypt was trying to mediate a truce.
“The contacts Cairo made resulted in a verbal promise by Hamas to calm the situation down, and Israel said it was monitoring calm on the ground and would refrain from attacks unless it was subject to rocket fire from Gaza,” said the official, who is close to the talks.
Israeli officials had no immediate comment. Previous rounds of cross-border attacks have usually fizzled out in days, with both Israel and Hamas seemingly aware of the risks of ramping up the low-intensity conflict.
Earlier, two IAF strikes on rocket crews in the Strip left a total of three Hamas men dead, Palestinian sources said.
IDF tanks also directed fire at terrorist targets in southern Gaza following a rocket attack.
Two Thai workers were severely wounded and a third was lightly wounded by a rocket strike on a chicken coop in an agricultural area of the Eshkol region on Wednesday morning, and three Israelis were hospitalized for shock.
Southern District Police said that 32 Gazan projectiles hit the Lachish region and 28 the western Negev since the early hours of the morning on Wednesday.
One rocket that struck a kibbutz in the Eshkol region blew away the wall of a house, leaving a large crater in the ground and coming within meters of killing a woman who managed to make it to shelter in time.
Hamas’s armed wing, Izzadin Kassam, said it was behind the rocket fire, and released a video on its website showing a multiple- rocket launcher firing several projectiles within seconds.
Defense Minister Ehud Barak toured the border with the Strip and visited the IDF’s Gaza Division on Wednesday, before holding a security evaluation meeting to determine Israel’s next steps, warning that the army may have to send ground troops into Gaza.
“We’ll act in any way necessary to restore calm,” he vowed.
Noting that “15 terrorists have been killed in recent weeks,” Barak said Israel was involved in a “long conflict” with Gaza terrorist factions.
“The situation is better now since there is the Iron Dome,” Barak added, referring to the anti-rocket shield in place over most southern cities.
Earlier on Wednesday, IDF Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Benny Gantz traveled to the South together with OC Military Intelligence Maj.-Gen. Aviv Kochavi and OC Southern Command Maj.-Gen. Tal Russo.
On Wednesday, the Hamas government announced that it would complain to the UN against Israel’s “new aggression” against the Gaza Strip.
The announcement followed the Hamas government’s weekly cabinet meeting in Gaza City.
It also followed reports that Hamas and other terrorist groups have formed a joint operations room to coordinate their attacks on Israel.
“We condemn the Zionist aggression on the Gaza Strip, which has escalated in the last hours, and warn against the repercussions,” a spokesman for the Hamas government said. “We declare that we will file a complaint with the UN to explain the nature of the Zionist aggression against our people and call for ending it immediately.”
The Hamas leadership said in a statement that Israel was escalating tensions in response to the visit to the Gaza Strip by the emir of Qatar, Sheikh Hamad al-Thani.
The statement pointed out that Israel had come out against the emir’s visit to the Gaza Strip on Tuesday. It claimed that Israel was worried that the visit would end the “political and economic blockade on the Gaza Strip.”
Hamas also warned that it would not allow “the crimes of the Israeli occupation to pass without a response.”
Hailing the Palestinian groups behind the current spate of rocket and mortar attacks on Israel, Hamas vowed to “continue carrying the rifle together with all the free forces until the liberation of Palestine and the defeat of the occupation.”
Meanwhile, Fatah’s armed wing, the Aksa Martyrs Brigade, accused Hamas of arresting some of its members in Gaza who tried to fire rockets at Israel.
The Fatah group said that Hamas security officers also confiscated the rockets that were found in the possession of its men. The group said that the Hamas security officers later shaved the heads of the detained Fatah terrorists.