Diplomacy & defense

An F-16 warplane takes off from the Ramon Air Force base in the Negev Desert, southern Israel, on October 21, 2013
At least 60 rockets fired towards Israel from Gaza Strip in heaviest barrage since Operation Pillar of Defense

The Israeli Air Force hit 29 terrorist targets in the Gaza Strip Wednesday night, in response to heavy rocket fire into southern Israel earlier, the IDF Spokesman's office reported.

According to Palestinian media sources, aircraft hit bases of the armed wing of Islamic Jihad, which had claimed responsibility for firing dozens of rockets into Israel. Power outages were reported across the strip.

"The #IDF retaliation was precise & prompt. Targeting infrastructure where #Gaza terrorists train, plan & implement their hideous attacks," tweeted IDF Spokesman Peter Lerner.

Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu also took to twitter threatening that "if there won't be quiet in the south, there will be noise in Gaza, and this is an understatement."

At least 60 rockets were fired from the Strip at Israeli southern cities early Wednesday evening, in the heaviest barrage of rockets since Israel's 2012 military Operation Pillar of Defense.

The Israel Defense Forces initially responded with artillery fire, with its spokesperson tweeting: "#IDF responded to #Gaza rocket attack, hitting 2 terror locations in northern & southern Gaza Strip with artillery fire."

Palestinian sources reported 14 people were injured.

The US State Department issued a stern condemnation of the rocket fire, stressing Israel's right to self-defense.

"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," read the statement.

The warning sirens' Code Red alert was heard all across the Gaza envelope, wailing throughout the kibbutzim, towns and villages within a 20-30 kilometer radius of the Gaza Strip, including Sderot, Netivot, the Shaar HaNegev Regional Council and the Sdot Negev Regional Council, and residents were ordered to enter shelters.

One rocket has reportedly hit the city of Sderot, but there were no reports of injuries. Most of the rockets landed in open territory. Iron Dome missile system intercepted at least three rockets.

Following the IDF attack, Hamas said it holds Israel responsible for any "escalation" in the Gaza Strip.

"We hold the occupation [Israel] responsible, we warn of the consequences of any escalation and we reiterate that resistance is the right of the Palestinian people to defend itself," said Ihab al-Ghassin, a spokesman for the Islamist movement Hamas, which governs Gaza.

The damage left by one of the rockets in the Israeli city of Sderot

Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu wrote on his Facebook page: "The rocket salvo apparently came in response to the Israeli strike yesterday. We will continue stopping attacks and hitting those who wish to harm us, and will act against them with full force."

"The number of rockets fired from the Gaza Strip in the last year has been the lowest in a decade, but this is not enough for us. We will continue the work to ensure the security of the people of Israel both in the south and across the country," he added.

Israel's Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman called for a "full reoccupation" of the Gaza Strip. "No sovereign country could accept a situation of dozens of rockets landing on peaceful cities, villages and kibbutzim. No price is high enough when trying to ensure the security of the Israeli citizens. This is the main element in a deal with the Palestinians," added the right-wing politician.

"This is the biggest attack on Israel since the 2012 Operation Pillar of Defense," the military said on its Twitter feed, referring to a major eight-day confrontation in November 2012 which claimed the lives of 177 Palestinians and six Israelis.

During the 2012 Operation Pillar of Defense, Gaza terror organizations for the first time fired rockets that reached Tel Aviv and Jerusalem.

The Islamic Jihad's militant arm has claimed responsibility for the firing.

"The Al-Quds Brigades responded to aggression by a salvo of rockets," a statement from the Islamic Jihad said. "The Al-Quds Brigades will not break the truce (with Israel), but will retain the right to respond to the Zionist aggression at the right time and the right place," spokesman Abu Ahmad said.David Buimovitch (AFP)

The rockets come a few hours after British Prime Minister David Cameron addressed the Knesset, in his first visit to Israel since taking office four years ago.

During his meeting with the Israeli President Shimon Peres, Cameron strongly condemned the attack, saying it is a reminder of how important it is to defend the future of Israel and its safety.

On Tuesday an Israeli air strike killed three Palestinians in the southern Gaza Strip. The three were members of Islamic Jihad's armed wing, the Al-Quds Brigades, a statement from the group said. It said they had been killed after firing mortars in a bid to try and prevent "an Israeli incursion east of Khan Yunis."

The air strike came just hours after an unmanned aircraft of the sort Israel uses for surveillance and missile strikes crashed in the same area, just east of Khan Yunis.

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