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Palestinian militants in the Gaza Strip on Wednesday evening fired four more rockets into Israel, with two hitting Be'er Sheva and two others falling in Netivot and the Sha'ar Hanegev Regional Council area. No injuries or damage were reported.

A barrage of more than 60 Katyusha and Qassam rockets hit the western Negev Wednesday, with several rockets exploding in the cities of Ashkelon and Be'er Sheva, previously thought to be beyond the range of Palestinian rockets.

Defense Minister Ehud Barak on Wednesday evening issued a statement extending the 'special situation' status on the home front to all communities within 40 kilometers of the Gaza border.

Be'er Sheva and Yavne are now among the cities included in the order.

Barak reiterated his appeal to all residents "to strictly follow Home Front Command instructions."

Barak's order allows the Defense Ministry, through the Home Front Command, to issue binding regulations for the civilian population in the specified area. The decision is valid for 48 hours, and must then be ratified by the government.

Palestinian militants in the Gaza Strip on Wednesday fired a barrage of more than 60 Katyusha and Qassam rockets at the western Negev, with a number exploding in the cities of Ashkelon and Be'er Sheva, previously thought to be beyond rocket reach.

A Grad rocket fired by the militants struck directly into an empty schoolhouse in Be'er Sheva on Wednesday morning, 37 kilometers from the coastal territory. Earlier, two rockets exploded in open fields near the Negev city. No injuries or damage was reported.

Two people were lightly wounded when a rocket slammed into the northern Negev city of Ashkelon late Wednesday morning. Another rocket exploded in the early afternoon in the heart of a residential neighborhood in the city, leaving a number of people suffering from shock.

Hamas took responsibility for Wednesday's strike on Be'er Sheva. Shortly after the strike, the Home Front Command issued a ban on all public gatherings in the city.

Home Front Command authorities have instructed Be'er Sheva residents to remain in sheltered areas as Palestinians have succeeded in striking in the deepest point eastward into Israel.

After holding emergency consultations with the Israel Defense Forces Home Front Command, authorities in Be'er Sheva decided on Wednesday there would be no school in the city. The city's mayor, Rubik Danilovich, also ordered all classes at Ben-Gurion University shut down.

The army has also shut down school instruction on Wednesday in all towns lying within 30 kilometers of the Gaza Strip, though kindergartens in reinforced rooms will be in session.

Two Palestinian projectiles also hit Ashkelon on Wednesday morning, injuring one person lightly. Medics treated a number of bystanders for shock. The town of Yavneh, north of Ashdod, was also hit on Wednesday morning, but no injuries or damage were reported.

A total of some 40 rockets hit Israel on Wednesday, though hundreds have been fired since the fighting began over the weekend. Four Israelis have been killed in rocket attacks since Saturday.

Residents of towns abutting the Gaza Strip, including Sderot, are instructed to constantly remain indoors and in close proximity to bomb-proof rooms. Emergency authorities forbid public gatherings and formations of groups.

Gaza rockets hit Be'er Sheva for first time

Two Katyusha rockets fired by militants in the Gaza Strip exploded Tuesday evening in Be'er Sheva region. This was the furthest point eastward which a Palestinian projectile has managed to reach.

One of the rockets on the area struck a children's playground. Nobody was wounded in the attack, but 34 people were treated for shock.

More than 40 rockets at the western Negev on Tuesday, including one which reached the vicinity of the Bedouin town of Rahat and Ofakim, both west of Be'er Sheva.

Hamas took responsibility for the Katyushas aimed at Be'er Sheva, and its military wing said last night that it plans to fire at Israeli targets that are even further away as long as the IDF operation continues.

Rockets exploded continuously throughout the day, with a number striking the northern Negev cities of Ashkelon and Ashdod. One person was lightly wounded when two rockets exploded in Ashkelon in the late evening.

A rocket fired in the afternoon scored a direct hit on a kibbutz dining hall in the Sha'ar Hanegev Regional Council. There were no injuries in the incident, but the building sustained severe damage.

Channel Two television reported earlier Tuesday that rockets exploded in the western Negev towns of Kiryat Malachi and Kiryat Gat.

A Qassam rocket struck a home in the western Negev town of Sderot on Tuesday. One person sustained minor shrapnel wounds, and three others suffered shock.

No occupants were at home when the projectile slammed into the house. Another Qassam rocket hit the backyard of a Sderot home, while five others exploded in open areas near Sderot.

Other rockets caused some damage to hothouses in the Eshkol region.

The attacks came after Palestinian rockets had killed three Israelis on Monday, and wounded nine more, one of them critically.