The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) said Wednesday that it is “raining rockets” across the country, with Islamic Jihad firing one projectile every seven minutes since a senior commander of the terror group was killed by the Israeli military in a targeted airstrike Tuesday morning.
Bahu Abu al-Ata, 42, and his wife were killed as they slept in their home in eastern Gaza, IDF spokesman Lt. Col. Jonathan Conricus said. Conricus added that Ata was responsible for a number of recent rocket attacks on southern Israel and claimed he was actively planning new attacks.
In response to Abu al-Ata’s killing, Islamic Jihad — an Iranian-backed militant group sworn to Israel’s destruction — launched dozens of rockets toward Israel. Some rockets reached as far as Tel Aviv, which prompted Israel to carry out scores of retaliatory airstrikes in the heaviest round of fighting in months.
Palestinian health officials say the death toll has risen to 26 in Gaza, including a 7-year-old boy and two other minors. More than 70 have reportedly been injured. The number of dead given by officials included at least 16 militants. Five civilians, including a woman and boys ages 17, 16 and 7, were among the dead. The identities of the others killed were not immediately known.
The IDF tweeted photos of alleged “terrorists” on Wednesday and wrote, “Since 4 a.m. Tuesday, we targeted terrorists involved in firing rockets at Israeli civilians. We killed 20 terrorists, most of them from Islamic Jihad. Our mission is to defend the people of Israel.”
Earlier on Wednesday, the IDF tweeted, “Another Islamic Jihad terrorist in Gaza was preparing to fire rockets at Israel. Little did he know that Israel was watching. The terrorist has been eliminated.”
“All of the attacks against Israel over the last half-year were the responsibility of one specific terrorist his name was Baha Abu al-Ata,” Conricus said during a Facebook live on Wednesday, which was filmed in front of n Iron Dome Aerial Defense battery in southern Israel. “He’s no longer a problem.”
“He was at the receiving end of a specific surgical operation by the IDF yesterday morning. We sent specific ammunition and we were able to kill him very precisely without causing a lot of collateral damage around him,” Conricus said. “We knew that this guy was a ticking bomb. He had lots of blood on his hands.”
He added, “He [Abu al-Ata] was planning to launch another attack against Israel within the coming days. That is what led us to execute that action, which was completed successfully… that specific terrorist will no longer be threatening additional Israeli civilians.”
Conricus said Wednesday that since Abu al-Ata was killed Islamic Jihad has been firing rockets into Israel, “fortunately without significant Israeli casualties.”
He attributed that to the Iron Dome, which he said is a “unique Israeli system developed together with the American defense industry, that has the capacity to intercept rockets in flight and to blow them up in the sky to make sure that Israeli civilians are safe and out of harm’s way.”
“Israel has been under a barrage of more than 220 rockets fired from Gaza by the Islamic Jihad,” said Conricus, adding that Iron Dome batteries placed all over the country, mainly in the south, have helped Israel “defend against more than 200 rockets that have been fired from Gaza.”
By Wednesday night, the number of rockets fired at Israel had risen to more than 360, according to the Israeli army.
On Wednesday evening, the IDF tweeted, “1 rocket every 7 minutes. That’s how often Islamic Jihad has been firing rockets into Israel since yesterday morning. Israel’s Iron Dome intercepted over 90% of the rockets before they could reach Israeli homes.”
Another IDF tweet said, “Imagine your weather app said it was raining rockets. This is what Israeli civilians are experiencing right now: non-stop rockets launched at them by Islamic Jihad in Gaza. We will continue to operate until there are clear skies over Israel.”
The continuous rocket fire prompted schools throughout southern Israel to remain closed on Wednesday and people to stay home from work. Large public gatherings were banned. Air raid sirens were heard throughout the day.
In Gaza, schools and public institutions were also closed for a second straight day and most people stayed indoors.
Convening a meeting of Israel’s top security officials, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said he hoped the fighting would end quickly.
“We are not bent on escalation but we will do whatever is necessary to restore the quiet and security to the residents of Israel, including the residents of the south,” Netanyah said.
Netanyahu also said in a tweet on Wednesday that he has spoken with the authorities in the Gaza Strip and asked them to provide reinforcement and support to the citizens of the area.
“I made it clear: the leaders of the terrorist organizations, commanders and activists know that they are on our target. We have increased our deterrence and changed the equation,” Netanyahu said in the tweet.
Hamas, the larger and more powerful militant group that controls Gaza and has fought three wars with Israel, has so far avoided entering the conflict. As the governing authority in the territory, it also is more practical than Islamic Jihad and appears to have little desire for more fighting at a time when Gaza’s economy is hurting. However, if the death toll continues to climb, that could change.
“If air strikes and aggression continue, Hamas and the resistance groups will have to morally respond to and protect the Palestinian people,” a Hamas official told Fox News.
The U.N.’s Mideast envoy, Nickolay Mladenov, rushed to Cairo to work with Egyptian mediators on truce negotiations. An Islamic Jihad delegation was also expected in Egypt “very soon,” according to an Egyptian intelligence who spoke on condition of anonymity, The Associated Press reported.
“I am very concerned about the ongoing and serious escalation between Palestinian Islamic Jihad and Israel,” Mladenov said. “The U.N. is working to urgently de-escalate the situation.”
“We are not seeking to escalate the situation. We don’t want to make the situation worse. We’re trying to calm down the situation, but of course we are forced to defend ourselves and to defend our civilians,” Conricus said Wednesday. “We hope that the situation will calm down. “
He added that the Israeli army was limiting its strikes to Islamic Jihad targets and avoiding conflict with Hamas to prevent an escalation.
“However, it’s very clear that if there will be Israeli casualties, the situation would change drastically and we would be forced to respond in a different manner,” the Israeli military spokesman said.
Islamic Jihad leader Ziad al-Nakhalah reportedly said in an interview late Wednesday that his group was ready for a cease-fire if Israel accepted “conditions,” including a stop to targeted killings of Palestinian militant leaders.
“If we reach an agreement, I can even announce a cease-fire over the phone,” he said.
Although no Israeli deaths were reported, a few homes suffered direct hits and there was a near miss on a major highway, where a rocket crashed just after a vehicle passed. In all, three people suffered slight wounds from shrapnel or shattered glass caused by rocket fire, according to medical officials.
In the southern city of Khan Younis in the Gaza Strip, the Israeli military fired a nonexplosive warning shot at the two-story home of the Zourob family late Tuesday to make them evacuate. Israel said the tactic, known as a “knock on the roof,” is intended to reduce the number of casualties before a target is hit.
Najab Zourob sat on the debris of her former home on Wednesday and reportedly said she had no idea why their house had been targeted.
“We don’t have any relations with any factions,” she said.
In another tweet on Wednesday the IDF posted a photo of a building in Gaza that the Israeli military said was hit by a misfired Islamic Jihad rocket.
In response, U.K.-based human rights organization Amnesty International tweeted, “We strongly condemn [the] attack on the Palestinian Independent Commission for Human Rights whose office in Gaza was struck by an Israeli missile earlier this morning. Strikes targeting civilian buildings is a violation of international law.”
In response, Fox News’ Trey Yingst tweeted, “Israel did not strike this building. A rocket misfired from Gaza. I was across the street when it happened.”
Fox News’ Trey Yingst and The Associated Press contributed to this report.