Man killed in Ashkelon from rocket; South pounded by 37 projectiles from Gaza in total; IAF responds with strikes on 6 terror targets; Egyptian officials report that Cairo mediated truce between Israel, Palestinian factions.
According to reports from Egyptian officials late on Saturday night, Cairo mediated a truce between Israel and Palestinian factions in Gaza, set to take effect at 6 a.m. on Sunday. Meanwhile however, another two rockets exploded early Sunday morning, one north of Ashkelon and one just outside of Beersheba.
A man was killed and four people were wounded when southern Israel was bombarded with long-range Grad rockets fired by Islamic Jihad from Gaza on Saturday. The rocket casualty was later named as Ami Moshe, 56, of Ashkelon. Moshe was on his way home to his family when the air raid siren went off. He left his vehicle and ran for cover, but was mortally injured by flying shrapnel from the rocket fired at a residential neighborhood in Ashkelon. He was rushed to the Barzilai Medical Center in the city, but doctors were unable to save his life. Moshe was able to answer a call from his concerned wife and tell her that he had been injured before being evacuated to hospital.
Security chiefs searched for a way to contain the situation on Saturday, as the Air Force went into action to strike terror cells preparing rockets for launch in northern and southern Gaza. The IAF attacked six targets in the Gaza Strip on Saturday night, the IDF declared in a press release. In the northern Gaza Strip it attacked three terror tunnels and three rocket launchers, and in the northern Gaza Strip it attacked two centers of terrorist activity.
“The attack was a response to a barrage of rockets fired over Israel,” the IDF stated.
“The IDF will not hesitate to act decisively and forcefully against anyone who uses terror against the citizens of Israel, until quiet returns to area. Hamas is a terrorist organization and bears the responsibility.”
IDF confirmed killing 10 Islamic Jihad members on Saturday. It struck four terror targets in Gaza between 9 p.m. and 10:30 p.m. Saturday night. The targets included a terror cell in southern Gaza planning to fire a projectile, a terrorist planning a rocket strike, and two rocket launch sites in northern Gaza. An additional terrorist in southern Gaza planning a rocket attack was also struck from the air on Saturday night. Furthermore, a cell in northern Gaza was also hit by the Air Force.
Some 200,000 school children will stay at home as classes in Ashdod, Beersheba and Kiryat Malachi were canceled by local officials, and the IDF Home Front Command asked people who live within 40 kilometers of the Gaza Strip to stay near structures protected against rockets.
On Saturday, 35 projectiles, including Grads and mortar shells, were fired at southern communities, hitting built-up areas in Ashdod, Ashkelon and regional councils across the region. A number of the rockets caused extensive damages to buildings.
The IDF struck a rocket-launching cell in Rafah, in the southern Strip, following the upsurge in attacks, reportedly killing two terrorists.
“Hamas is responsible for what takes place in Gaza,” the army said.
Ashdod bore the brunt of the attacks, and was targeted by at least three Grad rockets. One slammed into an empty school, and a second struck in the nearby Gan Yavne Regional Council, moderately wounding a man who was searching for his son.
TV footage showed bloodstained pavement where the man had been injured before running indoors and contacting paramedics.
A third rocket slammed into a parking lot between two multi-story residential buildings in Ashdod. It set several vehicles on fire and left behind extensive wreckage. The flames were doused by Israel Fire and Rescue crews, who also broke into homes in nearby buildings to rescue residents.
“This was a miracle, it could have been much worse,” Magen David Adom director-general Eli Bin said.
“Ashdod is under attack, without a doubt,” Mayor Yehiel Lari said.
A rocket fired at Ashkelon sent shrapnel flying that moderately wounded a man.
He was taken by MDA paramedics to the city’s Barzilai Medical Center. A second rocket fired at Ashkelon scored a direct hit on a home, setting gas canisters on fire.
Fire crews doused the flames.
The wave of rockets came after the IDF, working with the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency), identified and struck an Islamic Jihad rocket cell in Gaza earlier on Saturday, killing five terrorists, including senior Islamic Jihad commander Ahmed Sheikh Khalil, who was responsible for the group’s considerable rocket production facilities.
Army sources said the cell was the same one that fired the unprovoked long-range Grad that struck near Rehovot last week. That rocket was supposedly launched to mark the anniversary of the 1995 assassination in Malta of Islamic Jihad leader Fathi Shikaki, the first person to publish a booklet that legitimized suicide in jihad.
“The cell was preparing to fire another rocket into Israel,” an IDF spokesman said. Other reports added that the cell was targeted at an Islamic Jihad training camp. The terrorist organization vowed a major response to the air strike.
Islamic Jihad’s propaganda wing released a video on the Internet on Saturday showing a multi-rocket launcher mounted on a truck and firing several projectiles in succession.
The video is part of a boast by the Iranian-backed group that its rocket launching capabilities have improved over recent years.
The group’s claim that the video was taken on Saturday in Gaza could not be confirmed.
But the organization has been the recipient of large-scale Iranian support, both military and financial.
Late Saturday night, Islamic Jihad’s Quds Brigades said the first wave of rockets was its “initial response” to the strike on its rocket cell, adding that “the enemy should expect the worst in the coming hours,” Channel 10 reported.
The organization’s leader in Syria, Ramadan Abdullah, recently attended a conference in Iran calling for Israel’s destruction.
During the conference, Abdullah said Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamanei’s “plan is a road map to the liberation of the occupied territories,” referring to the whole of Israel.
Islamic Jihad has long been Iran’s closest proxy in the Palestinian territories.
In the past, the organization’s leadership described itself as “one of the many fruits on our leader [former Iranian supreme leader Ayatollah Ruhollah] Khomeini’s tree.”
A spokesman for Robert Serry, the UN’s special envoy for the Middle East peace process, said in a statement, “The recent escalations are very worrying. It’s vital to deescalate now, without any delay. We strongly appeal for calm and an end to violence and bloodshed.”
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu was receiving regular briefings on the security situation, officials said.
Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, who was on a trip to Bosnia-Herzegovina on Saturday, warned that “if the rocket fire isn’t halted, there will be serious consequences in the coming days.”
Lieberman said that Israel hasn’t been insisting that its security needs must be met in any final-status agreement with the Palestinians without good reason.
“Just today we have seen why this is necessary,” he said.
“We are not seeking violence with the Palestinians and we do not want to ‘heat up’ the situation, but we won’t suffer one rocket barrage after another without a response. Therefore I hope that already tonight, the rocket barrages will stop with the intervention of neighboring countries, the international community and the Palestinian Authority,” he said.
Opposition leader Tzipi Livni (Kadima) visited Gan Yavne, where one of the rockets stuck, on Saturday evening.
“I will support any action the government chooses in order to stop the attacks,” she said. “Residents of the South bravely deal with constant attacks, and we will all try to support them.”
The rockets “remind everyone that the South is full of terrorist extremists, whom Israel must weaken directly and by negotiating with moderates who do not use violence,” Livni wrote on her Facebook page.
“Now, when Hamas feels strong following the Schalit deal, we must be aggressive in order to bring back Israel’s deterrence,” MK Tzipi Hotovely (Likud) said. “We must make the residents of the towns surrounding Gaza, and all of Israel’s citizens, feel safe again.”
MK Arye Eldad (National Union) said, “After avoiding a military attack on the heads of terrorist organizations and instead surrendering to Hamas and freeing hundreds of murderers, we will now have to act.
“The excuse that Schalit will be hurt can no longer disguise the disgrace of our capitulation,” Eldad said.
“Now Israel must stop reacting and start preventing.
Only methodically wiping out the heads of terrorist organizations, especially [Hamas’s Ahmed] Jabari who held Schalit, will bring back our deterrence that was worn out by the deal [for Schalit’s release].”
Police have gone on the second highest level of alert, and have called on members of the public to refrain from gathering at rocket impact zones, to avoid additional injuries.
Tovah Lazaroff and Reuters contributed to this report