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Rocket fired from Gaza strikes house in southern Israel

Israeli military strikes more than 20 targets in Gaza in response.
Image: An Israeli sapper checks a house after it was hit by a rocket fired from the Hamas-run Palestinian Gaza Strip,
A house in the southern Israeli city of Beersheba hit by a rocket fired from the Hamas-run Palestinian Gaza Strip.Jack Guez / AFP - Getty Images

TEL AVIV — A long-range rocket fired from the Gaza Strip early Wednesday landed in the largest city in southern Israel, destroying part of a house. It was the first rocket to hit Beersheba, a city of 200,000, since 2014.

Another rocket fired from Gaza landed in the sea near Tel Aviv — Israel's largest city.

The firing of more advanced rockets was an escalation in the ongoing conflict between militants in the blockaded Palestinian enclave and Israel. Israel said that Hamas has fired more than 350 rockets into Israel over the last six months.

Smoke billows following an Israeli air strike around the southern Gaza Strip city of Rafah on Wednesday.Said Khatib / AFP - Getty Images

A woman and her three children, including an infant, were treated for shock after the rocket hit her house in Beersheba. After hearing sirens warning of an attack, the family took cover in their home’s bomb shelter, a military spokesman said. Schools in the south of Israel were closed on Wednesday as a result.

In response to Wednesday’s attack the Israeli military said that it struck more than 20 military targets throughout the Gaza Strip, including what it described as a tunnel, Hamas facilities and a manufacturing facility. It also closed the two border crossings between Gaza and Israel and reduced Gazan’s fishing space to three nautical miles.

One person was killed and three injured, according to the Ministry of Health in Gaza.

No group has yet claimed responsibility for the rocket attacks, which took place on the eve of a visit by the chief of Egyptian intelligence. He hopes to broker a long-term cease-fire between Israel and the Palestinians as well as a reconciliation between rival Palestinian factions Hamas and Fatah.

A joint statement by an umbrella organization representing several Palestinian military wings denied firing the missiles.

“The resistance wings in the joint operations room salute the Egyptian effort to achieve the demands of our people, and reject all the irresponsible attempts that try to deviate the compass and sabotage the Egyptian effort, including the rocket fire last night,” said the Joint Chamber of Palestinian Resistance.

Israel holds Hamas responsible for the attack, military spokesman Jonathan Conricus said.

“We strongly urge Hamas not to test our resolve,” he said, warning the group from further escalating the conflict.

Rockets and more recently incendiary kites and explosive balloons are frequently aimed at the communities neighboring Gaza, though this is the farthest they’ve reached in four years. The Israeli military has responded to these with strikes on the desperately poor enclave.

There are also regular and deadly protests next to the border fence — which turn violent at times — aimed at easing the blockade. This past Friday more than 14,000 gathered in different locations, where they threw rocks, explosive devices, firebombs and grenades at IDF troops and the security fence, the Israeli military said, adding that it fired on the protesters. Five Palestinians were killed and 60 injured, according to the Gaza Ministry of Health.

Since March, 155 Palestinians have been killed during the protests. One Israeli soldier was killed by sniper fire in July.

Hamas won elections to rule Gaza in 2006. Since then, there have been three major rounds of fighting between Israel and Gaza. Israel and Egypt have enforced a border blockade since 2007, which has made it increasingly difficult for Hamas to govern the densely populated strip of land that is home to some 2 million.

It has also devastated Gaza's economy, made it virtually impossible for people to enter and exit the territory, and left residents with little clean water and just a few hours of electricity a day.

Israel argues that Hamas could have ended the suffering of Gaza's people by disarming and renouncing violence.

Rachel Elbaum reported from London; Paul Goldman and Lawahez Jabari reported from Tel Aviv.