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Gaza rocket strikes house in southern Israel amid escalating tensions

Image: Israeli air strike in the Gaza Strip
Smoke billows following an Israeli air strike around the southern Gaza Strip city of Rafah on Wednesday. Copyright Said Khatib
Copyright Said Khatib
By Rachel Elbaum and Paul Goldman and Lawahez Jabari with NBC News World News
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Israeli military strikes more than 20 targets in Gaza in response.


TEL AVIV — A long-range rocket fired from the Gaza Strip in the early hours of 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 to the ongoing conflict between militants in the blockaded Palestinian enclave and Israel.

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.

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.

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

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 an upcoming visit to Gaza by Egyptian officials. 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 statement by the Joint 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 — which turn violent at times — next to the border fence. 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.

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.

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 2 million people by disarming and renouncing violence.

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

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