Israel’s armed forces struck more than 60 Palestinian targets after more than 100 rockets rained down on southern Israel from the Gaza Strip on Tuesday, in the heaviest fighting seen since 2014.
The Israel-bound mortars and missiles, claimed by Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ), began at 7am and were mainly intercepted by the Iron Dome system, but one landed in the playground of a school nursery. No-one was hurt in that attack.
Amid a cacophony of sirens throughout the day, another projectile hit an Israeli home in the Eshkol region. Three Israeli soldiers were reported to have sustained non-life threatening injuries.
The salvo, initiated by the PIJ, is believed to be in response to the IDF killing four of its militants in strikes a day earlier. As a tense truce appeared to hold on Wednesday, reports surfaced in Arab media that Israel, Egypt and Hamas had negotiated a ceasefire deal. Israel denied these reports.
The IDF said conducted strikes against “terror targets at seven sites belonging to Hamas and the Islamic Jihad, including military compounds, munition storage warehouses, naval targets and terrorist command centres”.
As part of the response, Israeli soldiers said they “neutralised” a tunnel which led from Gaza into Egypt then 900 metres into Israel, releasing aerial footage showing the route. It is the tenth tunnel to be destroyed since October.
Meanwhile Israeli Defence Minister Avigdor Lieberman announced plans for a new naval barrier off Zikim beach, to be constructed around the 25 mile Strip to “block any possibility of infiltration from Gaza into Israel by sea”.
In New York, the United States called for an emergency session of the UN Security Council, which it said “should be outraged and respond to this latest bout of violence directed at innocent Israeli civilians,” adding: “The Palestinian leadership needs to be held accountable for what they’re allowing to happen in Gaza.”
Israeli Ambassador to the UN Danny Danon said “violent riots along the security fence with Gaza, including IEDs [Improvised Explosive Devices] and the firing of weapons at our security forces, were not spontaneous protests, but rather part of a coordinated violent attack against the State of Israel”.
He added: “The shells and rockets fired at our citizens leave no doubt to the true intentions of those who incited, encourage, and even paid for those ongoing riots.”
Israeli Arab parliamentarian MK Jamal Zahalka said Israel was engineering a conflict. “Israel is being pushed into a corner by the non-violent demonstrations in Gaza and is initiating a military confrontation to stop them,” he said.
Avi Gabbay, chairman of Israel’s Labor Party, said that since the last war in 2014 “our government has not made any move to prevent” further escalation,” adding that there was “no leadership”.
The UN, EU and governments around the world condemned the rocket fire, a spokesman for the EU’s diplomatic service saying “indiscriminate attacks against civilians are completely unacceptable under any circumstances,” before calling for a “de-escalation of this dangerous situation”.
In the UK, the rocket-fire was condemned by British Jewish groups including the Board of Deputies and Yachad.
Board of Deputies’ senior vice president Richard Verber described the rockets as “the attempted murder of Israeli children” while Yachad’s Hannah Weisfeld said “firing indiscriminately into a civilian population is unacceptable and should be wholeheartedly condemned”.
She added: “Without a political agreement and the leadership to forge one, violence on the Gaza border will continue with all peoples living in a constant state of fear.”