JERUSALEM — Rockets fired from Gaza continued to fall on Israel, a day after a massive barrage from the coastal territory left thousands of Israelis in bomb shelters.
Four rockets were fired Thursday morning at Ashkelon and Ashdod, with two landing in open fields between the two cities and one intercepted over Ashkelon by the Iron Dome anti-missile system.
Ashdod closed schools without rocket-proof shelters following the attacks.
Hours later, Israel’s Air Force retaliated by targeting seven “terror sites” in the southern Gaza Strip, the Israel Defense Forces said in a statement Thursday afternoon.
“Since yesterday there has seen a substantial deterioration in the safety of the residents in southern Israel. We have responded and will continue to do so in order to eliminate threats as they develop. This is our obligation and responsibility to those exposed to Gaza terrorism,” IDF spokesman Lt. Col. Peter Lerner said in a statement.
Israel’s Security Cabinet was set to meet Thursday morning to discuss the escalation in attacks from Gaza.
On Wednesday evening, the Islamic Jihad terror organization fired dozens of rockets at southern Israel, with 41 landing on Israeli territory including five in residential neighborhoods. Iron Dome shot down at least three of the rockets.
The Israel Defense Forces responded to Wednesday evening’s rocket attacks, hitting what it called in a statement 29 “terror locations” in Gaza with artillery fire. Residents were instructed by the IDF to remain within 15 seconds of a bomb shelter overnight.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Israel would continue to respond militarily to the attacks.
“Our policy in the south is clear- we attack anyone who attempts to hurt us and we will react with a powerful force,” Netanyahu said Thursday morning. “I want to clarify that whoever tries to hurt our Purim celebrations- we will respond with force.”
United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon condemned the attacks and urged restraint from all sides.
“The Secretary-General strongly condemns the multiple rocket attacks today on Israel from Gaza, for which Islamic Jihad has claimed responsibility,” Ban’s press office said in a statement issued late Wednesday night. “While reports of damage and injuries are still being ascertained, (Ban) deplores the severe escalation of violence. He urges all actors to exercise maximum restraint to prevent further incidents that could bring greater escalation and destabilization in the region.”
The U.S. State Department earlier condemned the rocket attacks and said Israel has a right to defend itself.
Department spokesperson Jen Psaki said Wednesday afternoon in a statement that: “The United States condemns in the strongest terms today’s rocket attacks into Israel by terrorists from the Gaza Strip. It is reprehensible that dozens of rockets have been fired today alone. There is no justification for such attacks. We call for these terrorist attacks to cease immediately. Israel, like any nation, has a right to defend itself.”
Since the beginning of 2014, more than 100 rockets have been fired at southern Israel from Gaza, according to the IDF. Tuesday’s attack was the largest on Israel since the 2012 Operation Pillar of Defense, the IDF said.