Tensions continued along Israel's border with the Gaza Strip on Wednesday morning, as Gaza militants fired two Grad-type Katyusha rocket at the southern city of Be'er Sheva and a barrage of mortar shells on the western Negev.
Two Grad rockets strike Be'er Sheva, March 23, 2011
The first rocket struck a street in the middle of a residential area in the city, damaging buildings including a synagogue. A piece of shrapnel penetrated a nearby third-floor apartment upon impact, lightly wounding one man. The second hit an open area in the city. A number of people were treated for shock in both incidents.
Gaza militants also fired seven mortar shells at the Eshkol region of the western Negev and another at the Sha'ar Hanegev area. The attacks on Wednesday morning came a mere hours after another Grad fired from Gaza exploded south of the coastal city of Ashdod. Islamic Jihad claimed responsibility for each of the attacks.
The Ashdod school district announced that classes would be canceled on Thursday and Friday in the wake of the rocket fire.
An Israel Air Force craft retaliated for the attack on Be'er Sheva shortly after the second attack; the Israel Defense Forces said the squad responsible for launching the rocket was hit.
At least eight Palestinians, including four civilians, were killed over the course of Tuesday during heavy exchanges of fire between the Israel Defense Forces and militants in the Gaza Strip. The exchanges were some of the most serious rounds of fighting near the Strip since the end of Operation Cast Lead in January 2009.
On Tuesday afternoon, Gaza militants fired four mortars at Kibbutz Alumim and Kibbutz Sa'ad. The rockets landed in open areas and caused no injuries.
In response, the IDF fired mortars at the suspected launching point. The IDF mortars targeted the Palestinians behind the rockets, but also hit 12 civilians. One of the four mortars fired by the IDF at a launching pad in a Gaza olive grove strayed and hit a house about 80 meters away.
Militants continued to fire mortar shells and a Grad rocket at Ashkelon as the evening progressed. There were no injuries.
Israel was hit by more than 50 rockets over the weekend, leading the military to believe that militants may be planning another barrage to target Israeli neighborhoods.
Senior IDF officers have said this week that neither side is interested in escalation. However, Hamas and the other armed Palestinian factions appear to be trying to hit IDF forces patrolling the border fence as well as increasing missile and mortar attacks on Israeli communities near the Gaza Strip.
Hamas officials in the Gaza Strip threatened Tuesday to retaliate for the civilian deaths. "The brutal crime of today will not pass without a response by the resistance," Hamas spokesman Ismail Radwan said. "Israel is escalating against our people and the whole world should show their responsibility to stop this escalation."
Be'er Sheva was hit last month by two Grad rockets, one of which hit a home in a residential area. Those rockets marked the first time that Be'er Sheva was hit since the Gaza war ended in 2009.
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