Fury of Hamas Rockets on Southern Israeli Towns Kills Three Civilians While Israel Continues Pillar of Defense

Apartment building in Kiryat Malachi, Israel suffers direct hit, killing three (Screen shot from Israel Channel 2 via Times of Israel)

Hamas and other terrorist groups in Gaza unleashed a fury of rockets on southern Israeli towns Thursday, launching salvo after salvo every few minutes. One rocket scored a direct hit on an apartment building in Kiryat Malachi, killing three Israelis and injuring an eight-month-old baby.

The IDF reports that as of 6:00am Eastern, Palestinian terrorists had fired 196 rockets at Israel since the start of Operation Pillar of Defense (or Pillar of Cloud in Hebrew) Wednesday afternoon. For its part, the IDF says its bombing campaign aimed at Gaza’s militant infrastructure has struck “156 terror sites” in Gaza. The IDF began its campaign with the assassination of Hamas military chief Ahmed Jaabari.

Contrary to Hamas’ strategy of intentionally targeting civilians, the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) continued its efforts to avoid Palestinian civilian casualties. On Thursday, it dropped thousands of leaflets over Gaza urging citizens to stay away from Hamas buildings and terrorist launching grounds. Hamas and other terrorist groups have a history of using Palestinians as human shields by hiding weapons sites near and in civilian areas. The leaflets said:

For your own safety, take responsibility for yourselves and avoid being present in the vicinity of Hamas operatives and facilities and those of other terror organizations that pose a risk to your safety.

Hamas is once again dragging the region to violence and bloodshed. The IDF is determined to defend the residents of the State of Israel. This announcement is valid until quiet is restored to the region.

See this video the IDF Spokesman posted on YouTube of the leaflets falling on Gaza:

The IDF describes this video as a strike on a weapons warehouse holding medium range rockets:

Palestinian sources report that 13 have been killed in Gaza since Israel launched its military operation.

The IDF Spokesman told the Jerusalem Post that the Iron Dome rocket defense system successfully intercepted 48 incoming rockets since the operation began.

Schools remain closed in southern Israel and in Gaza as Israel’s Home Front Command ordered residents in the south to remain within 15 seconds of shelter.

Fury of Hamas Rockets on Southern Israeli Towns Kills Three Civilians While Israel Continues Pillar of Defense

IDF Chief of Staff Benny Gantz arrives in southern Israel to meet with soldiers serving on the front line (Photo credit: IDF Spokesman)

Concerned Hezbollah in Lebanon might decide to launch rockets of its own at northern Israel, the government raised its threat alert to the highest level – Gimmel (third letter of Hebrew alphabet) – for the entire country, according to Israel’s Army Radio.

As for the Syrian border, an Israeli soldier was lightly wounded Thursday when what’s being described as stray fire from the Syrian internecine conflict veered over to the Israeli side of the border. This marks the third time this week that Syrian weaponry has landed on the Israeli side of the Golan Heights.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu spoke with President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden on Wednesday. The Jerusalem Post reports:

Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu spoke on the telephone on Wednesday night with US President Barack Obama, Vice President Joe Biden and EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton. He was also scheduled to speak with UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.

The prime minister thanked Obama and Biden for taking the position that Israel had a right to defend itself.

Israeli media reported that the Israeli security cabinet decided during an emergency meeting on Wednesday night to authorize the mobilization of reservists if needed, while the IDF is not ruling out the launching of a ground operation.

UPDATE:

The names of the Israeli victims have been released. One of them was a pregnant mother. From Lubavitch.com:

The victims, two men and a woman, were identified as Ahron Smadga, Yitzchak Amselam, and a 25 year old expectant woman, Mirah (nee Cohen) Scharf. An infant and several children were among the wounded who were taken to nearby hospitals. The victims were members of the city’s Chabad community.

See our full report here.

 UPDATE II:

Army Radio reports that one rocket fell in an open area in Rishon Le’Zion, which is deep inside Israel. The city council leader tells Army Radio reporter Hadas Schteif that the rocket fell far from the center of town, so life there goes on as usual.

Fury of Hamas Rockets on Southern Israeli Towns Kills Three Civilians While Israel Continues Pillar of Defense

The IDF confirmed the attack on its Twitter account:

Fury of Hamas Rockets on Southern Israeli Towns Kills Three Civilians While Israel Continues Pillar of Defense