UN's Ban Ki-moon Strongly Deplores Heavy Rocket Barrage on Israel From Gaza

Israeli army chief of staff rushes back from U.S.; Abbas urges end to 'Israeli military escalation.'

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UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon overnight Wednesday condemned a heavy barrage of rockets fired from Gaza on southern Israel and urged restraint in attempt to prevent further escalation.

Israel Air Force carried out strikes in the Gaza Strip Wednesday evening in response to at least 70 rockets fired at southern Israel. The Israeli military said that 29 targets throughout the Strip were hit by Israeli jets.

An Iron Dome anti-rocket defense system successfully intercepted three of the rockets, the Israel Defense Forces said, and area residents have been called to stay within protected areas. No injuries were reported on the Israeli side, besides a woman who was lightly hurt when she ran towards a safe zone

"The [UN] Secretary General strongly condemns the multiple rocket attacks today on Israel from Gaza, for which Islamic Jihad has claimed responsibility," said a statement issued by Ban's spokesman. Ban "urges all actors to exercise maximum restraint to prevent further incidents that could bring greater escalation and destabilization in the region," it added.

On Tuesday, the IDF struck an Islamic Jihad cell in response to an attempted mortar shell attack on Israeli forces doing routine operations in the area. The Islamic Jihad, said the three killed in the attack were militant members of the group. The group claimed responsibility for Wednesday's rocket attack and called it "a response to the crimes of the occupation, the most recent of which was the assassination of three [Islamic Jihad] members."

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas issued a statement via his spokesman on Wednesday, urging an end to what he called "Israeli military escalation in the Gaza Strip."

In Washington, the U.S. State Department condemned the rocket attacks and said Israel had a right to defend itself.

"There is no justification for such attacks," spokeswoman Jen Psaki said in a statement. "We call for these terrorist attacks to cease immediately."

Earlier on Wednesday, Netanyahu warned that Israel will react "very forcefully" against the rocket fire. "If there won't be quiet in the south, there will be noise in Gaza – a lot of noise, and this is an understatement," he said, during a press conference with visiting British Prime Minister David Cameron on Wednesday.

Following a meeting with Cameron, Netanyahu held security consultations over the phone with Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon, Deputy Chief of Staff Maj. Gen. Yair Naveh and Shin Bet director Yoram Cohen.

IDF Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Benny Gantz, who is in the U.S., was briefed on all the developments and is expected to return to Israel overnight, Army Radio reported.

A trail of smoke is seen above Gaza City on Wednesday, March 12, 2014.Credit: AP
Cameron, left, and Netanyahu during their joint news conference in Jerusalem March 12, 2014. Credit: Reuters

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