Gaza Palestinians fired over 60 rockets and mortar shells into Israel Wednesday, prompting Israeli airstrikes in response in which 29 Gaza targets were hit. Following the Israeli response, two more Gaza rockets were fired at Israel overnight. The rocketing from the Gaza Strip was the most extensive such attack since 2012.
Israeli government officials did not cancel school for children in Southern Israeli towns near the Gaza border, but did raise its security alert in the area. Residents were told to stay within 15 seconds of rooms reinforced against rockets. The Gaza border is near enough that local Israelis generally have only 15-30 seconds of warning time before the rockets hit.
The United States immediately condemned the rocket attacks, as did British Prime Minister David Cameron, currently visiting Israel. UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon condemned the rocket fire and urged “all actors to exercise maximum restraint to prevent further incidents that could bring greater escalation and destabilization in the region.”
But in a statement quoted by Reuters late Wednesday, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas only called for an end to the “Israeli military escalation in the Gaza Strip.” Abbas, ostensibly Israel’s peace negotiations partner, made no mention of the rocket attacks from Gaza.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warned Gaza against further escalation, vowing that “if there is no quiet in our south, no quiet for the residents of Israel, there will be noise, lots of noise in Gaza… and that’s putting it mildly.”
The Islamic Jihad terror group took credit for the attacks, saying they were in retaliation for Israel’s killing of three of its operatives on Tuesday and that they signaled the start of an ongoing campaign. It is unclear if Hamas, which governs the Gaza Strip, was involved; though Hamas took no credit for the attack, a video released online showing the Gaza rockets being fired was posted on a Hamas-linked Facebook page.
The video, which shows rockets being fired from within populated areas, illustrates the difficulty Israel faces in trying to respond without inflicting civilian casualties. Israeli officials have referred to such rocketing as a “double-war crime,” both firing rockets targeting Israeli civilians while using the civilian population of Gaza as human shields in order to draw condemnation for any Israeli response appearing to attack civilians.
Islamic Jihad is considered a terrorist organization by the U.S., the E.U., the U.K. and Israel. It receives support from Iran, and was the intended destination of the advanced arms shipment from Iran intercepted last week by Israel in a high-seas raid.