Palestinian militants fired dozens of rockets from the Gaza Strip into Israel on Wednesday, in a first response to Israeli airstrikes that killed 19 Palestinians, including three senior militants and at least 10 civilians.
The rocket fire set off air-raid sirens across southern Israel and as far as the Tel Aviv area on the Mediterranean Sea, 50 miles away. Residents had been preparing for an attack since Israel carried out its first airstrikes early Tuesday.
Israeli television stations showed air defense systems intercepting rockets over the skies over Tel Aviv. In the Tel Aviv suburb of Ramat Gan, people lay face down on the ground while taking cover during an attack.
In a move that could further escalate tensions, Israeli police said they would allow an ultra-nationalist Jewish parade to take place next week. The parade, meant to celebrate Israel’s capture of East Jerusalem and its Jewish holy sites, marches through the heart of the Old City’s Muslim Quarter and often sparks friction with local Palestinian residents.
As air-raid sirens continued to wail, Israeli media said at least 100 rockets had been fired. Israeli rescuers said two people were injured as they ran for cover, and local authorities said an empty house in the southern city of Sderot was attacked.
Throughout the day, Israeli planes hit targets in Gaza for the second day in a row, killing at least three Palestinians.
The attacks on Tuesday killed three high-ranking Islamic Jihad militants and at least 10 civilians, most of them women and children. Palestinian militants have vowed to retaliate, while Israel says it is prepared for further escalation of hostilities.
The Israeli army said its attacks targeted Palestinian Islamic Jihad militant infrastructure in the coastal enclave.
The army said an airstrike targeted militants traveling to a rocket launch site in the southern Gaza Strip.
Medics said the attack killed one man and seriously injured another. Later Wednesday, another airstrike killed a Palestinian in northern Gaza and two Palestinians in the southern city of Rafah. Palestinian officials could not confirm if the targets were militants.
It was also unclear whether two Palestinians killed in a separate airstrike on Tuesday night were militants or civilians. Israel has claimed that the men were preparing to fire anti-tank missiles.
The Israeli army had instructed residents of southern Israel to stay close to bomb shelters, and schools remained closed for a second day as a precaution against rocket attacks.
Israel says the airstrikes are a response to a barrage of rockets fired last week by Islamic Jihad in response to the death of one of its members on hunger strike while in Israeli custody.
Israel says it is trying to avoid a conflict with Hamas, the most powerful militant group ruling Gaza, and confine the fighting to Islamic Jihad.
“Our actions are aimed at preventing further escalation,” said the rear admt. Danny Hagari, the chief spokesman for the Israeli army. «Israel is not interested in war.»
Hamas has expressed solidarity with its smaller counterpart in Gaza, and the two groups often coordinate with each other.
If the violence continues, the risk of a full-blown war could increase. Israel and Hamas have fought four wars since the Islamist group, which opposes Israel’s existence, seized control of Gaza in 2007.
Israel has come under international criticism for the high number of civilian casualties on Tuesday, which included the wives of two of the militant commanders, some of their children and a dentist who lived in one of the buildings attacked along with his wife and son. .