Gaza militants resumed their rocket fire campaign against Israel on Wednesday, with at least 168 rockets launched at Israel since last midnight. Rockets were fired at central Israel Wednesday evening, and over 35 missiles exploded in Eshkol Regional Council in the south, which was the central target for Gaza militants throughout the day. Some 23 rockets were intercepted by Iron Dome.
At 11:04 pm, a rocket from Gaza struck outside of a town in the Eshkol Regional Council, while another was intercepted over Ashdod. No injuries were reported as a result of the attack. In response, the IAF hit a number of targets in Gaza, and the military claims they identified direct hits. A little later another rocket launched from Gaza fell in the sea, across from Ashdod's coast.
At 9:12 pm, while Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu wasdiscussing the Gaza operation, a rocket fired struck an open area in the Eshkol Regional Council. Shortly after, another rocket struck an open area in the Hof Ashkelon Regional Council.
A salvo of rockets was also fired at Israel at 9:45 pm, but the majority fell in the sea, but at least two fell in open areas in Ashdod.
At 6:45 pm, an Iron Dome missile defense battery intercepted two rockets over Ashkelon and another two over Netivot.
At 6:15 pm, four rockets from Gaza exploded outside a town in the Eshkol Regional Council. No injuries were reported as a result of the attack, bringing the number of rockets fired at the council to 47 in the past day.
At 6:06 pm, two rockets from Gaza exploded in open areas in the Merhavim Regional Council. No injuries or damage was reported.
At 5:30 pm, three rockets from Gaza exploded in the Eshkol Regional Council. Two of the missiles fell inside a town but no injuries or casualties were reported as a result of the attack. Afterwards an Iron Dome missile defense battery intercepted two rockets of the Hof Ashkelon Regional Council.
At 3:40 pm, rocket explodes in open area in Ashkelon and shortly after in Sdot Negev; no injuries were reported. At the same time the IAF hit two terror operatives involved in rocket attack against Sderot earlier Wednesday.
At 2:06 pm, two rockets fell outside communities in Eshkol Regional Council. Several minutes earlier, one rocket was intercepted by Israel's Iron Dome defense system over the Shfela area.
At 2 pm, three rockets exploded in open areas in Eshkol Regional Council, and two rockets were intercepted above Hof Ashkelon Regional Council area.
At around 1:45 pm, one rocket exploded in Hof Ashkelon Regional Council, causing light damage to a road in the area.
Around 1:30 pm, Iron Dome intercepted one rocket over Kiryat Malakhi and one rocket over Hof Ashkelon. One rocket launched towards Hof Ashkelon Regional Council exploded near a synagogue in the area.
Around 1:00 pm, two rockets landed in open areas in the Eshkol Regional Council. A few minutes later, Iron Dome intercepted two rockets over Ashdod.
Shortly after 12:30 pm, a Gaza rocket hit a home in the Hof Ashkelon Regional Council; no injuries were reported. A few minutes earlier, two Gaza rockets fell in open areas in Eshkol; no injuries and no damages were reported.
Shortly after 12:15 pm, Iron Dome intercepted four rockets in the skies of Ashdod.
Around noon, one rocket exploded within the Hof Ashkelon Regional Council; Iron Dome intercepted one. Two more rockets exploded in open areas in the Eshkol Regional Council, near the Gaza security barrier.
Shortly after 11:30 am, air raid sirens sounded in Eshkol. Two rockets exploded in the regional council's area – one inside a town. Light damage was caused to a reinforced wall.
At around 11:00 am, seven rockets exploded in Eshkol, two of them insides local communities; vehicles and structures were lightly damaged. Two rockets also exploded outside of Sdot Negev communities.
Shortly after 10:30 am, sirens blared in Kiryat Gat and the Shafir, Be'er Tuvia, Yoav, Lakish Regional Councils. Iron Dome intercepted one rocket over Kiryat Gat.
Hof Ashkelon Regional Council came under heavy rocket fire at around 10:00 am as four rockets exploded in open areas in the council.
Earlier in the morning, two rockets exploded in the area of Hof Ashkelon Regional Council. At around 8:00 am,
Iron Dome intercepted two rockets over Ashkelon, and one over Ashdod. Half an hour earlier, a rocket exploded outside a community in Sdot Negev Regional Council, and two rockets fell outside a community in Eshkol Regional Council.
The reason for the intensive fire was revealed overnight, when reports emerged that an IDF targeted killing operation against the leader of Hamas' military wing, Mohammed Deif, resulted in the death of his wife and daughter – as well as a third, unidentified body which some claim was Deif.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu addressed the press Wednesday evening and said the operation in Gaza would not end until calm is returned to Israel. He refused to respond torumors regarding the fate of Hamas' military leader Mohammed Deif, only saying that "Hamas leaders are legitimate targets."
Netanyahu began his speech by praising IDF soldiers and sending his condolences to the bereaved families. He said the operation was not over yet, and would not be until calm is returned to the south.
"Our policy regarding Hamas is simple: If you fire, we will hit back. They think they will exhaust us, but they are wrong," Netanyahu said.
"The operation did not end. Our struggle against terror groups is a long and goes back many years. In recent weeks we have dealt Hamas a massive blow, the most serious blow since their establishment. We are determined to continue and use any means needed," he said.
When asked if negotiating with Hamas makes it stronger at the expense of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, Netanyahu said that "Hamas is isolated. Who supports Hamas? Qatar, Turkey and Iran. The entire Arab world is against it."
When further pressed on the issue, he said: "I hope (Abbas) plays constructive role, but he must understand that Israel has the right to defend itself. I look forward to restarting peace talks with a Palestinian government committed to fighting terror."
"We need resolve," Netanyahu said, "we must remain united internally and stay brave,"
Netanyahu said, however, that he saw a "new diplomatic horizon" ahead for Israel in the region, alluding to possible diplomacy with Palestinians ahead once the war was over."
Netanyahu did not comment on Deif, but when he was specifically asked about the Hamas military leader's fate, Netanyahu said "Not only are Hamas leaders legitimate targets, they are a top priority. No one is immune."
Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon also spoke, and said that Hamas is hiding the extent of damage that Israel has caused the organization, including the names of militants who've been killed.
Netanyahu reiterated his position regarding Hamas and the Islamic State militants currently ravaging Iraq and Syria, and said they were "branches of the same tree."