IDF ready to escalate Gaza action if rockets persist

Over 160 rockets, mortar shells fall on Israel in 3 day period; additional rocket slams into residential neighborhood in Beersheba, damaging 15 homes.

Nitzana residents seek refuge in sewage pipe 390  (photo credit: REUTERS)
Nitzana residents seek refuge in sewage pipe 390
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Despite ongoing attempts by European and Egyptian diplomats to obtain a cease-fire, Israel was poised Sunday night to escalate its operations against the Islamic Jihad terrorist infrastructure in the Gaza Strip as rockets continued to pound southern Israel for the third straight day.
On Sunday, 40 rockets were fired into Israel and 14 were intercepted by the Iron Dome rocket-defense system. A fourth battery will be deployed in the coming weeks. IDF sources said that around 160 rockets have been fired into Israel since the beginning of the violence on Friday afternoon.
The IAF has carried out 24 air strikes in Gaza since Friday, killing 20 Palestinians. One of the dead was identified as 12- year-old Ayoub Assaleya, who the IDF said apparently walked into a launch site seconds before it was attacked.
On Sunday morning, Palestinian sources added that Assaleya was killed by IDF gunfire in Jabalya in the northern Gaza Strip. The IDF said it was examining the report.
Two rockets slammed into Beersheba on Sunday, hitting an empty school and a nearby residential area. No one was injured.
“We will strike at anybody that plans to strike at us, tries to strike at us or actually does hit us, and the [military] is dealing very heavy blows at these terror organizations,” Netanyahu said during a visit to Ashdod.
Due to the ongoing violence, IDF Chief of Staff Lt.- Gen. Benny Gantz canceled a trip he had planned to the United States for talks with his counterpart Gen. Martin Dempsey, which were slated to focus on Iran. Gantz was also supposed to attend a Friends of the IDF dinner in New York City.
On Sunday afternoon, Gantz convened a meeting of the General Staff and instructed the Southern Command to continue targeting rocket cells caught trying to fire rockets into Israel.
According to assessments within the IDF, Islamic Jihad is increasingly frustrated with its failure to exact a heavy price from Israel despite the large number of rockets it has fired.
As a result of this frustration, the IDF predicts that Islamic Jihad will escalate its rocket fire and that the violence will potentially continue for several more days.
“This could go on for longer and we need patience,” Defense Minister Ehud Barak said on Sunday.
In general, the short-range rockets launched into Israel are fired by members of the Popular Resistance Committees, the leader of which was assassinated by Israel on Friday due to suspicions that he was plotting an attack along Israel’s border with Egypt.
The longer-range rockets such as those fired toward Ashdod on Sunday are fired by the Islamic Jihad.
IDF spokesman Brig.-Gen.
Yoav “Poli” Mordechai pointed a finger on Sunday at Iran, which he said was actively encouraging Islamic Jihad to continue firing rockets into Israel.
“Iran finances Islamic Jihad and supports it with weaponry,” Mordechai told reporters.
“In these days, the Iranians are supporting them and actively encouraging them to continue.”
Mordechai said that while Hamas was not actively firing rockets into Israel, it is viewed as the ruling authority in Gaza and is therefore held responsible by Israel for terrorist attacks that originate inside the territory.
Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh said Egypt was working to stop the violence and was consulting with the various factions in Gaza but added that Israel would have to first stop its air strikes.
“Following contact with factions and the positive and responsible position they have taken, Egypt is working continuously to stop the aggression... the enemy must end its aggression now,” Haniyeh said.
The Home Front Command along with the heads of a number of local authorities in the South gave the order on Sunday night to cancel school in all towns and cities located between seven kilometers to 40 kilometers from the Gaza Strip for the second day in a row.
The order applies to the cities of Ashkelon, Ashdod, Beersheba, Netivot, Sderot, Kiryat Malachi, Gedera, Rahat, Yavne, Lakiyeh and the Gan Yavne Regional Council.
Schools in the western Negev that are closer than 7 kilometers to the Gaza Strip will hold class as usual, as they have the necessary reinforcement to protect against the incoming rockets, the Home Front Command said Saturday.
Yaakov Lappin, Ben Hartman and Reuters contributed to the report.