A barrage of 28 mortar shells was fired from Gaza toward Israel Tuesday morning, the Israel Defense Forces said. Most of the mortars were intercepted by the Iron Dome missile defense system, but several hits were reported in southern Israel, including in the yard of a kindergarten.
According to reports in Gaza, Hamas and other Palestinian factions are evacuating headquarters and bases in anticipation of an Israeli response. Earlier reports said the IDF attacked eastern Gaza with artillery fire.
Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman, IDF Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot and other senior defense officials met at the Defense Ministry in Tel Aviv Tuesday for an urgently convened meeting to consider the latest developments on the Gaza border. The fact that the army had not retaliated as of late Tuesday morning coupled with the Defense Ministry meeting are an indication that Israel's reaction this time could be different than the army's response over the past several months to threats from Gaza.
Defense officials are attempting to strike a balance that makes it clear that Tuesday's incidents on the border are seen as serious, but at the same time fashioning a response that doesn't result in prolonged confrontation with Islamic Jihad and Hamas.
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Officials said that attempts should be made to defer any high-intensity confrontation in Gaza at least until construction of a new underground barrier is completed along Israel's border with the strip. The project is designed to deprive Hamas of its use of its tunnel network near the border for use against Israel.
Senior Islamic Jihad figure Khaled al-Batsh responded to the incident, saying "We will not allow the occupation to continue its aggression against the Palestinian people without a response and we will continue with the processions of return until the siege on Gaza ends."
Rocket sirens were heard around 7 A.M. in several southern Israeli communities, including Eshkol, Shaar Hanegev and Sdot Negev. Residents in the vicinity reported sounds of explosions. About an hour later, a second round of rocket sirens was heard again in Eshkol. A third round of sirens was heard around 9:30 A.M. in the kibbutzim of Nirim and Ein Hashlosha.
The Eshkol Regional Council, an Israeli community near the border, said one of the shells from Gaza fell in the yard of a kindergarten. No injuries were reported. The IDF noted the fact that the rockets were fired at communities as children made their way to schools. According to the IDF, the firing was carried out by Islamic Jihad and was approved by Hamas.
The European Union's Ambassador to Israel, Emanuele Giaufret, condemned the incident and noted that one of the mortar shells landed in a kindergarten. "I know the resilience of communities in southern Israel but indiscriminate attacks are totally unacceptable and to be condemned unreservedly," Giaufret said.
This was the first such incident since a new wave of mass Palestinian protests began in Gaza on March 30. On Monday, heavy gunfire from Gaza hit the southern town of Sderot, causing damage to structures and cars. No one was hurt in the incident.
Since March 30, Hamas has refrained from launching rockets and has prohibited other organizations in the Strip from carrying out revenge attacks so as not to harm the narrative of a popular Palestinian struggle against Israeli snipers. In the past two days, however, three Islamic Jihad members and a Hamas activist were killed in Israeli strikes, and the IDF expected the Gaza-based group to retaliate with rocket fire.