60 Rockets Hit Southern Israel

Less than 24 hours after the IDF liquidated three members of an Islamic Jihad terrorist cell that had just fired missiles into Israel, the Jihad movement responded yesterday by what they called a “silence-breaking operation.” A massive barrage of missiles rained down on the southern cities and towns in Israel; in less than two hours more than 60 rockets hit Israel.

About 10 of the rockets exploded in residential areas in Sderot, Netivot and Gaza Envelope towns, causing two light injuries and eight people to go into shock, as well as damage to property. Iron Dome batteries intercepted three of the rockets over Sderot.

It was the most serious round of fire since the end of Operation Pillar of Defense. Senior defense
officials pointed an accusing finger at the Islamic Jihad, which is connected to and backed by the Revolutionary Guards of Iran. But they also said that Hamas bears general responsibility for anything that goes on in Gaza, and pledged at the end of Pillar of Defense to make sure that neither Hamas nor any other group would violate the ceasefire. The barrage yesterday, the sources said, would not have happened with out the direction of Hamas, or at least permission from the group.

A spokesman for Islamic Jihad said last night that his organization takes responsibility for the rocket fire. He claimed that 75 rockets and mortars were fired as a “response to the crimes Israel commits in Yehudah, Shomron and the Gaza Strip, chief among them the crime of killing three members of the military arm of Islamic Jihad yesterday.”

The rocket fire took place during a visit by British Prime Minister David Cameron in the Knesset, and there’s no doubt that the capture of the Iranian arms ship that was supposed to transport weapons to the Islamic Jihad cells was connected to the barrage.

Deputy Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot, serving as a stand-in for the Chief of General Staff who is in the United States, convened the army heads to decide on the reaction. About an hour later, Israeli tanks fired at a range of terrorist targets in the Gaza Strip. It seemed as though things were calming down, but at 10 p.m. the rocket fire resumed, and in response, the Israeli air force launched its own massive barrage on more than 30 Islamic Jihad and Hamas targets.

Direct hits were scored on training camps, control centers and weapons factories in Rafiach, near Khan Younis, in Dir El Balakh, south of Beit Lahiyah and more. An important Hamas military outpost was also destroyed. Fires broke out and electricity was cut to many areas of the Gaza Strip.

Israeli residents in the region were warned to remain near their reinforced rooms so that they could get in as soon as the sirens sound. With that, they were told to continue their preparations for Purim. “Israel will not allow the terrorists to stop the joy of the holiday,” the instructions stated.

Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon said that “we will not let this barrage of fire pass without a response. We will not allow Islamic Jihad or any other entity in the Strip to disrupt Israeli civilian life. If it won’t be quiet in the south, it won’t be quiet in the Gaza Strip, in a way that will make the Islamic Jihad terrorists regret opening fire.”