Gaza Militants Fire Barrage of Rockets Into Southern Israel

Iron Dome intercepts three rockets; IDF fires shells into Gaza Strip; Lieberman: No choice but to take over Gaza.

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Israel Air Force carried out strikes in the Gaza Strip Wednesday evening, in response to a barrage of rockets that targeted southern Israel earlier in the day.

29 targets throughout the Strip were hit by Israeli jets, the IDF Spokesman said in a statement.

"The IDF will not tolerate attempts to harm Israeli citizens and soldiers, and will continue to act forcefully and dicisivelly against any who uses terror against the State of Israel. Responsibility [for the strike] lies with the terrorist organization Hamas."

Earlier, A barrage of at least 70 rockets was fired from the Gaza Strip towards southern Israel on Wednesday evening. There were no casualties.

Of the 70 missiles that were fired at Israel earlier, fourty-one struck within Israeli territory, hitting various locations near the Strip. No injuries were caused besides one 57-year-old woman who was lightly hurt when she ran towards a safe zone. One missile hit Sderot, another landed within Shaar Hanegev Regional Council, and others struck areas around Netivot, Sdot Negev and Eshkol Regional Councils.

The IDF's Iron Dome system successfully intercepted three rockets, and area residents have been called to stay within protected areas.

Israel will react "very forcefully" against the rocket fire, said Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in response to the attacks.

In a press conference with British Prime Minister David Cameron, Netanyahu said that "if there won't be quiet in the south, there will be noise in Gaza – a lot of noise, and this is an understatement."

Israeli media reported Hamas was evacuating its headquarters in the Gaza Strip in anticipation of an Israeli retaliation.

Islamic Jihad claimed responsibility for the attacks. A statement released by the militant organization called the firings "a response to the crimes of the occupation, the most recent of which was the assassination of three [Islamic Jihad] members," Palestinian news agency Ma'an reported.

Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon ordered the closure of the border crossings with Gaza and suspended visitation rights for Gazans incarcerated in Israel.

Israel "will not stand idly by," he said. "We will not allow Islamic Jihad or any other player in the [Gaza] Strip to disrupt the lives of the citizens of Israel."

Ya'alon added: "When there's no quiet in the south, there will be no quiet in the Gaza Strip – in such a way that will make the Islamic Jihad terrorists regret the volley."

Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman said following the barrage that "there is no choice but a full takeover of the [Gaza] Strip." According to Lieberman, Gaza and its abundance of weapons arsenals is "a hostage in the hands of a group of terrorists."

"No sovereign country can accept a situation whereby dozens of rockets land on peaceful cities, villages and kibbutzim," he said. "There is no price we cannot pay for the security of the citizens of Israel."

Hamas declared it held the Israeli occupation responsible for the upsurge in cross-border violence, Agence Press France reports.

"We hold the occupation responsible, we warn of the consequences of any escalation and we reiterate that resistance is the right of the Palestinian people to defend itself," said Ihab al-Ghassin, a Hamas spokesman.

The U.S. said in the statement that it "condemns in the strongest terms today’s rocket attacks into Israel by terrorists from the Gaza Strip. It is reprehensible that dozens of rockets have been fired today alone. There is no justification for such attacks." The statement adds: "We call for these terrorist attacks to cease immediately. Israel, like any nation, has a right to defend itself."

IAF strikes in Gaza

On Tuesday, the IDF said it struck an Islamic Jihad cell in response to an attempted mortar shell attack on Israeli forces doing routine operations in the area.

Gaza's Ministry of Health spokesman Ashraf al-Qidra said the airstrike took place in southeast Khan Younis, Maan reported.

According to Islamic Jihad, the three killed were militant members of the group, identified in Gaza reports as Ismail Abu Judah, 23, Shahir Abu Shanab, 24, and Abd al-Shafi Muammar, 33. Their bodies were taken to the European hospital in Khan Younis. A fourth person was also reportedly moderately wounded.

Last week, one Palestinian was killed and two others wounded in an Israeli air strike in Gaza. The IDF stated that the target was a group of militants in Beit Hanoun, in the northern Gaza Strip, who were preparing to launch rockets into Israel.

The damage caused to the sidewalk in the southern Israeli city of Sderot by a rocket fired from Gaza, March 12, 2014.Credit: Eliyahu Hershkovitz
A trail of smoke is seen above Gaza City on Wednesday, March 12, 2014.Credit: AP

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