The Israeli military said it struck targets in Gaza after four rockets fired from the Strip hit the southern Israeli town of Sderot on Wednesday evening, injuring three Israelis.
Shortly after the IDF attacked Gaza, the Iron Dome missile defense system intercepted three rockets fired from the Strip. According to the IDF, a total of 36 rockets were fired from the coastal enclave toward Israel. Sirens sounded in the southern communities of Eshkol and Sha’ar Hanegev.
The first barrage from Gaza consisted of eight rockets, two of which were intercepted by the Iron Dome missile defense system, the IDF said. Four rockets exploded in Sderot, injuring three people – a 34-year-old man suffered light to moderate injuries, while a 20-year-old man and a woman were lightly injured. All three were evacated to Barzilai Medical Center.
Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman is discussing the escalation on the southern border with senior military and defense officials at the IDF’s headquarters in Tel Aviv.
Sderot Mayor Alon Davidi said that rescue services had been sent to homes “to check as to whether there are more shock victims” as a result of the rocket fire. “I recommend that everyone remain near protected spaces,” Davidi said. “We are in constant contact with the army and security forces.”
Opposition lawmakers blasted Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government for failing to achieve a lasting truce in Egyptian-mediated ceasefire talks with Hamas.
“Netanyahu and Lieberman! You have failed!” Labor Party leader Avi Gabbay tweeted. “Is this the way to hold a negotiation? Our hearts are with the residents of the Gaza border region and we support the IDF in its mission of restoring security to residents of the area.”
The first round of rockets was fired after the IDF attacked a Hamas target in the northern Gaza Strip in response to gunmen opening fire at a civilian vehicle involved in the construction of a barrier along the border. The gunfire caused damage to the vehicle.
Earlier Wednesday, the military increased its alert level and closed several traffic arteries in the Gaza region after Southern Command spotted the evacuation of several Hamas outposts in the Strip.
According to the military, the evacuations signalled Hamas was getting ready to launch an attack. Such an attack would provoke a response from Israel, prompting Hamas to evacuate targets the IDF might strike. The military said no special instructions had been issued for civilians on the homefront.
The developments came a day after the Israeli military fired at a Hamas facility in northern Gaza in response to fire from the Strip aimed at Israeli security forces. The tank fire killed two members of the Izzedine al-Qassam Brigades’ al-Nukhba elite unit and wounded six others, reports in Gaza said. The al-Qassam Brigades is the military wing of Hamas.
According to the IDF, the incident occurred due to a misunderstanding: The military believes that the shots that prompted an Israeli response were not deliberately aimed at IDF soldiers, but were part of a ceremony of the al-Qassam Brigades.
An IDF engineering corps force was operating in the area when the shots fired from Gaza were heard. The IDF thought it was an attempted sniper attack, and it was decided to fire a tank shell at the position in response.
An initial investigation has found, however, that the shooting took place two kilometers away from where the soldiers were operating. At this stage, it remains unclear whether the IDF knew of the ceremony, during which weapons were being fired. The assessment is that if any information had been received earlier about the event, senior IDF officers would not have approved the tank fire.
Nevertheless, the security establishment assesses that Hamas is still interested in reaching a cease-fire agreement with Israel, but that the organization faces a dilemma. While Hamas works toward signing a deal, the organization must keep responding to incidents in such a way as to show it has not shifted its policy toward Israel. At the same time, Hamas is trying to strengthen its links with other groups in Gaza – such as Islamic Jihad – to restore control and muster support behind any deal that may be reached.
A Hamas official told the Turkish state news agency Anadolu on Wednesday that the two parties are expected to sign an agreement by the end of August. The source, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said the first stage of the deal would include a two-week trial. The deal would lift restrictions on the entry of goods into the Gaza Strip and at the Rafah border crossing between Egypt and the coastal enclave.