Hours after Hamas' military wing announced Wednesday that it was ready to sign an Egyptian-brokered truce to end three days of cross-border fighting, seven rockets fired from the Gaza Strip slammed into southern Israel within a one-hour span Thursday morning.
All seven rockets exploded in unpopulated areas, causing no injuries or damage. The barrage came after about 70 rockets and mortar shells were fired from Gaza into Israel the previous day.
Most of the rockets struck open areas, causing no injuries and only some light property damage. Most of the rockets hit the areas surrounding the Eshkol Regional Council, Shaar Hanegev and Sdot Negev communities. A Grad rocket landed in an open area near Beersheba as well.
Shrapnel from a rocket launched at the Sdot Negev community damaged a kibbutz home, and some kibbutz residents were treated for shock.
In all, more than 120 rockets have been launched from Gaza into Israel since the current round of violence began on Monday.
In a statement, the militant wing of the Islamist Hamas group in control of Gaza said Wednesday: "Responding to the Egyptian efforts, we and the armed resistance announce our commitment to stop this round of confrontation as long as the occupation halts their aggression."
In a message directed at Israel, Hamas wrote on its official website that "the current round of clashes with the enemy has been undertaken with a minimal use of fire, and the leaders of the occupation need to understand that," Army Radio reported.
In an unprecedented move, the Israel Defense Forces deployed four Iron Dome anti-rocket defense batteries near communities in the south during the current round of attacks, one of which shot down a rocket launched against the city of Sderot. The Iron Dome rocket defense system is designed to intercept projectiles headed for populated areas.
Monday's violence erupted after a cross-border attack launched from Egypt's Sinai Peninsula killed an Israeli civilian. Israel shot dead two of the attackers, then launched air strikes on Gaza, killing eight, including Wednesday's victims.
A newly formed radical Islamist movement, the Shura Council of Mujahideen in the Holy Land, claimed responsibility for Monday's raid from Egypt. On Thursday, a Saudi Interior Ministry spokesman told the Saudi Okaz newspaper that the ministry was investigating allegations that one of the perpetrators of the border attack had been a Saudi Arabian national.
An Israeli raid on Wednesday killed a member of a fringe Islamist Salafi network that was involved in Monday's violence. He was struck while riding his motorcycle in Rafah, near Gaza's border with Egypt, medical officials said.
In response to the ongoing rocket fire from Gaza, the Israel Air Force bombed 11 targets in the Gaza Strip on Wednesday. Among the targets were two Islamic Jihad terrorists who were said to have been involved in Monday's attack. Ghalib Armilat was killed in the attack and Mohammed Rashuan, 26, from Rafiah, was seriously injured.
According to Defense Ministry officials, the operation, which was conducted with the help of the Israel Security Agency, targeted Rashuan due to his membership in the Tawhid and Jihad organization which has been responsible for attacks against Israeli citizens and soldiers in the past several years and promotes a radical approach based on the Global Islamic Jihad movement.
Rashuan was said to be responsible for the transport of weapons and supply of explosive devices to terrorists in his organization, as well as rocket launches against Israel, sniping at Israeli citizens and soldiers in the south, mortar fire and the smuggling of terrorists into and out of Gaza.
Another Israeli air strike in Gaza City killed a 14-year-old boy and wounded his father, also a civilian, officials said.
The Israeli military confirmed the air strike, saying it had targeted a squad firing rockets from a largely civilian-inhabited area in northern Gaza.
Israel launched two more air strikes on Hamas security bases in Gaza after darkness fell, lightly injuring two Palestinian boys aged 13 and 14, who sustained shrapnel wounds, medics said. Israel confirmed these attacks as well.
In light of the rocket attacks throughout the week, parents of schoolchildren were worried that the end of the school year on Wednesday for middle and high schools meant their children would be exposed to the rockets with no way to get to shelters on time. Many buildings in the south are not equipped with bomb shelters or protected areas.
Some universities and colleges in the area canceled graduation ceremonies on Wednesday upon instructions from the IDF Homefront Command.
Meanwhile, OC Southern Command Maj. Gen. Tal Russo ordered Route 12, which runs along the Egyptian border, closed. An IDF spokesman said Wednesday, "In accordance with an assessment of the situation and due to security reasons, travel along Route 12 between the Sayarim intersection and the Netifim checkpoint has been prohibited since Wednesday. The order relates only to the road itself. The commander's order prohibits veering off the road into the area between the road and the international border. Nahal Gishron is also off-limits to tourists."