The fragile truce between Gaza and Israel was shaken on the evening of March 14 as terrorists fired three Grad rockets at southern Israel.
The Iron Dome defense system intercepted two of the projectiles, while a third exploded on the outskirts of Beersheva.
No injuries or damage were reported, but the city decided to close all schools the following day.
This latest salvo followed an Israeli military strike on Gaza earlier March 14, when Israel’s air force fired on what it called two “terrorist activity sites” in northern Gaza, some 24 hours after the announcement of an Egyptian-brokered cease-fire between Israel and terrorist groups operating from Gaza.
A statement from the Israel Defense Forces said the strike was in response to seven rockets and mortars fired from Gaza that struck Israel March 13. One landed in a parking lot in Netivot, injuring one person and damaging property.
Israeli leaders warn that more violence may follow.
“We are still following the situation in the south and we need to see how it develops and whether the [rocket] firing really stops,” said Israel Defense Forces Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Benny Gantz. “It’s not over until it’s over. Quiet will be answered with quiet, and fire will be answered with fire.”
Discussing the newly implemented cease-fire during a visit to South District Police headquarters in Beersheva, Internal Security Minister Yitzhak Aharonovich warned: “There is an understanding that they stop firing and we stop firing … But if another targeted assassination like last Friday’s is necessary, we will carry it out and enter another round, if need be.”
Terrorist groups in Gaza launched a barrage of rockets at Israel March 9 after Israel assassinated Zuhir Mussah Ahmed Kaisi, leader of the Popular Resistance Committees in Gaza. The Israel Defense Forces believed Kaisi was planning a terrorist strike in Israel.
In four days of cross-border violence, some 300 rockets were fired from the Gaza Strip, according to the Israeli daily Haaretz. The IDF carried out 37 strikes inside Gaza against rocket launchers and weapons storage facilities and factories.
Israeli authorities said the Iron Dome anti-missile system intercepted 70 percent of all missiles, and 90 percent of the long-range missiles targeting major Israeli cities such as Beersheva, Ashdod and Ashkelon.
The Israeli military believes that the short-range rockets were launched by the Popular Resistance Committee, while the long-range and mid-range rockets were launched by Islamic Jihad. Hamas, which rules Gaza, did not take part in this latest violence.
Nevertheless, the IDF issued a statement saying that it holds Hamas responsible because the group has jurisdiction over Gaza. The statement said, “The Hamas movement, although not the one performing the launchings, is not doing anything to prevent it either.”
At least 26 Palestinians were killed in Israeli counterattacks on Gaza. At least seven Israelis and foreign workers in Israel have been wounded, two seriously, and dozens have been treated for shock.
“This round [of violence] was too long, unnecessarily so,” said Aharonovich. “A million residents [in the south] lived in uncertainty, and we should have intensified our response. We need to learn our lessons so that next time the response will be harder and more painful.”
On March 11, a rocket landed in a residential neighborhood of Beersheva and damaged 15 homes; another rocket that landed near a Beersheva school caused damage to the structure. Pieces of a rocket intercepted by Iron Dome also hit a car and a water pipe in the city, according to Ynet.
The United States is “deeply concerned by the renewed violence in southern Israel,” State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said in a statement. “We condemn in the strongest terms the rocket fire from Gaza.”
The IDF Home Front Command ordered schools closed for three days in cities and towns located up to 25 miles from the Gaza border, affecting about 200,000 children. Classes at colleges and universities also were closed. Schools reopened March 14, but were closed again the next day in Beersheva.
Netanyahu lauded the residents of southern Israeli communities for their resilience in a meeting March 11 with 30 municipal leaders from the area.“In the end, the strongest force at our disposal is the fortitude of the residents, of the council heads, of Israelis and of the government,” he said.
JTA staff and Ynetnews.com contributed to this report.