JERUSALEM – Israel responded with artillery fire Wednesday to a barrage of more than 40 rockets, some of which hit populated areas in Israel, that were fired from within the Gaza Strip, army officials here said.
The barrage of rockets, three of which were intercepted by Israel’s Iron Dome defense system, marks the most severe escalation in violence since a one-week war between Israel and militant groups in November 2012 which left more than 160 Palestinians and six Israelis dead. There were no immediate reports of casualties on either side from Wednesday’s exchange.
“This retaliation was precise and prompt,” said Lt. Col. Peter Lerner, an Israeli army spokesman. “We targeted the infrastructure that serves the terrorists while they train, plan and implement their hideous attacks.”
Immediately after the rockets were fired into Israel, Palestinian media reported the Palestinian Islamic Jihad’s military wing, the al-Quds Brigades, as taking responsibility for the attack. The rocket fire was in response, they said, to an Israeli airstrike Tuesday that killed three of its members. In that incident, too, the Israeli military said it hit the Gaza strip in response to mortar shells fired at soldiers stationed along the volatile border.
“It seems that the rocket fire came in response to our counter-terrorism operations yesterday,” said Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in a statement. “We will continue to thwart and harm those who wish to harm us, and we will act against them with great intensity.”
He added: “Last year, the number of rockets fired from Gaza was the lowest in a decade, but we will not settle for that. We will continue to ensure the security of Israeli citizens in the south and throughout the country.”
Despite the relative quiet last year, the first two months of 2014 have seen a slight escalation in tension between Israel and Gaza. Some believe that Hamas, the militant group that has ruled the seaside enclave since 2006, is slowly losing its grip on power due to changes in neighboring Egypt and across the region, allowing more militant groups to operate against Israel.
Deputy Defense Minister Danny Danon also said that Israel should respond with force.
“We will speak to the terrorists in a language that they understand and we will not accept a reality where the people in the south will sleep in bomb shelters, while the terrorists in Gaza walk freely,” he said in an interview.