Over two days in mid-March, over 90 rockets were fired from Gaza and over 50 landed in Israeli territory. Several reports suggest that at least five rockets landed on populated areas and at least three were intercepted by the Iron Dome missile defense system. Fortunately, no physical injuries have been reported although many are being treated for severe shock.
The conflict escalated after three Islamic Jihad operatives were killed by Israel Air Force after firing mortar shells. The IDF footage of the mortars being fired can be seen here.
Our Israeli partners note that the code red siren sounded out many times through the night, calling citizens to their shelters. One Sderot resident said, "A Kassam [rocket] fell next to my house, right on the sidewalk. Luckily there were no casualties." Ashkelon and Ashdod have been hit particularly hard as well as Sderot, Netivot and other southern cities. Our Partnership Region in Yoav has not yet been targeted by the rockets; but from previous escalations we know Hamas has missiles that can reach and surpass the Yoav region.
Although school opened on the morning following the heaviest rocket fire, many speedily closed and sent pupils home as rockets continued to fall. The huge number of rockets are being shot from Gaza where the Israel Air Force has already begun retaliating by targeting terrorist launch pads and ammunition stores. Twenty nine weapons caches and terrorist hubs have been hit by Israeli forces in direct response to the violence.
According to the IDF Spokesperson Unit, this is the most substantial rocket attack from the Gaza Strip since Operation Pillar of Defense in November 2012.
The Islamic Jihad, a terrorist organization sponsored by Iran, has claimed responsibility for the attacks, threatening that "You haven't yet seen the extent of our capabilities." In response to the escalation of violence, the Prime Minister of Israel, Benjamin Netanyahu, said that Israel would not stand for attacks during the upcoming Purim festival. "I want to make it clear," he said, "we will hit hard at those who try to destroy our Purim celebrations."
This rocket fire comes as UK Prime Minister David Cameron is visiting Israel to discuss peace initiatives in the region and follows the Israeli strike against three militants who fired a mortar at Israel from Gaza. Cameron called the rocket strikes on Israel "barbaric."
The US State Department decried the barrage of rockets from the Gaza Strip, referring to it as "reprehensible," and stressing that Israel reserves the right to protect its citizens. "The United States condemns in the strongest terms today's rocket attacks into Israel by terrorists from the Gaza Strip ... There is no justification for such attacks. We call for these terrorist attacks to cease immediately. Israel, like any nation, has a right to defend itself," read a statement from spokeswoman Jen Psaki.
Meanwhile, President Shimon Peres reiterated that Hamas was responsible for the situation both in Israel and in Gaza. "Israel will not allow terrorists to fire at our civilians, under any circumstances," he said in a statement this morning. "Hamas must decide how they want to live - fire will be answered with fire, quiet will be answered with quiet."