UPDATE, 1:00 PM GMT: Agence France-Presse is reporting that an Egyptian-brokered ceasefire beginning at 2 pm local time has gone into effect, quoting an Islamic Jihad official.
London, Asharq Al-Awsat—Gaza militants fired a second barrage of rockets into Israel on Thursday, striking the outskirts of the southern cities of Ashdod and Ashkelon. The first round of at least 70 rockets at Israeli territory came only a day earlier, making it the largest such attack since an eight-day Israeli offensive in 2012.
The second barrage of rocket fire from Gaza followed the Israel Air Force firing on 29 targets throughout the Gaza Strip on Wednesday evening and statements by Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman calling for the reoccupation of the Strip.
Palestinian Islamic Jihad claimed responsibility for the attacks, saying they came was in response to an Israeli airstrike on Gaza on Tuesday that killed three members of the terrorist group. The airstrikes were, in turn, a response to attempted mortar attack on Israeli forces by Islamic Jihad.
Following the first rocket barrage on Wednesday, Islamic Jihad threatened to escalate the conflict further if Israel retaliated, pledging to fire long-range rockets into Israeli territory.
“We intend to expand the range of the rockets if Israel retaliates tonight,” an Islamic Jihad spokesman told Israel’s Channel 2 on Wednesday. “We will fire beyond the 4–5 kilometer range we have fired upon so far.”
“The Al-Quds Brigade has prepared properly for this day. Every time they kill someone from among our people, the Al-Quds Brigade is obligated to respond—and the response will not be a normal one. We will respond with violence and will respond with barrages of rockets,” the spokesman added.
There have been no casualties in the latest flare-up of violence between Islamic Jihad and Israel. Of the 70 or more rockets in the first barrage by Islamic Jihad, 41 hit Israeli territory. The Iron Dome system successfully intercepted three rockets.
It was not clear how many rockets struck Israeli territory on Thursday, although there were no reported casualties.
Speaking on Thursday, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said: “Our policy in the south is clear. We harm those who try to harm us and respond fiercely to any attack. The terrorist groups in Gaza need to understand that they are dealing with a very determined government and a very strong army.”
Immediately following the first rocket barrage on Wednesday, Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman had threatened a full military invasion of the Gaza Strip. “Following an attack like this—a barrage of more than 50 rockets—there is no alternative to a full reoccupation of the entire Gaza Strip,” he said.
There has been an unofficial state of ceasefire between the Palestinian faction and Israel since since an eight-day Israeli offensive in 2012. Gaza’s ruling Hamas movement has not been involved in the latest fighting, but Israel believes that the Hamas government must do more to keep other Palestinian factions in the Gaza Strip in line.
The Israel Defense Forces issued an official statement on Wednesday that read: “The IDF will not tolerate attempts to harm Israeli citizens and soldiers, and will continue to act forcefully and decisively against any who uses terror against the State of Israel. Responsibility [for the strike] lies with the terrorist organization Hamas.”
Islamic Jihad spokesman Daoud Shihab said the group’s attacks were “on behalf of all the Palestinian people.” He added that Islamic Jihad’s “response” was “blessed by all the factions,” suggesting that Hamas had given at least tacit approval for Wednesday’s rocket strike.
Reuters quoted Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri as saying that Israel “bears full responsibility” for the escalation.