Israeli aircraft struck at Palestinian militants in Gaza on Saturday who responded with a volley of rockets that rained on southern Israeli towns, Israeli and Palestinian officials said. Palestinian officials said seven militants were killed, while on the Israeli side, one civilian was killed and four others were wounded.
Exchanges of fire are common between southern Israel and the Gaza Strip controlled by the militant Hamas group, but this is the worst one in months.
Gaza Health Ministry spokesman Adham Abu Salmia said that seven people were killed and 15 injured in two separate attacks on militant targets.
Israeli police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said one Israeli civilian was killed and four others wounded when Palestinian rockets exploded in residential areas in southern Israel.
An Israeli military spokesman confirmed a total of three strikes, saying the military hit Palestinian militants from the Islamic Jihad, one of several groups in Gaza that fires rockets into southern Israel. The spokesman said that the first attack specifically targeted a cell responsible for a Wednesday rocket attack that exploded deep inside Israel. That attack had caused no casualties.
Israeli military released video footage taken from a military drone Saturday afternoon that shows Palestinians unloading rockets from a truck and preparing them for firing at Israel. The strike took place shortly afterward.
Abu Salmia, the Gaza health official, said five people had been killed and 11 wounded in the first attack. Islamic Jihad spokesman Abu Ahmed confirmed that one of its local field commanders, Ahmed Sheikh Khalil, was among the dead. He said Khalil was one of the group's chief bomb makers. "Today it was a great loss for us in the Islamic Jihad," he said. "The size of our retaliation will equal our loss," it said in a text message sent to reporters.
"Our response shall be in the depths of the Zionist entity," it said in reference to the Israeli heartland. Islamic Jihad took responsibility for firing the rockets in a text message to reporters, and released photos of the rockets being launched from the backs of pickup trucks. The group said this is the first time they are using this system as opposed to firing them from launchers on the ground.
Israel and Hamas, the militant group that rules Gaza, blamed each other for the flare-up in violence Saturday.
"The Hamas terror organization is solely responsible for any terrorist activity emanating from the Gaza Strip," the Israeli military said. Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum meanwhile said Israel is "fully responsible for all the results of this dangerous escalation."