Israeli officials believe that Islamic Jihad has amassed hundreds of rockets and missiles, if not thousands, including weapons taken from Libyan military bases during the chaos surrounding the fall of Libya’s longtime ruler, Moammar Gadhafi. Missiles and other weapons reach Gaza through smuggling tunnels running under its border with Egypt.
In the current round, Islamic Jihad showed that the three main cities in southern Israel — Ashkelon, Ashdod and Beersheba — are in easy reach of its Russian-designed Grad rockets. On Monday, two dozen rockets struck southern Israel, including one that damaged an empty preschool on a communal farm. Police said no one was hurt.
Rubin believes Islamic Jihad also has longer-range missiles that could reach the major population centers of central Israel, like Tel Aviv. Hinting at possible escalation, Islamic Jihad warned Monday that its “patience is limited” and that it is ready to unleash “fire and destruction,” though such rhetoric is routine during flare-ups like this one.
Hamas, which has ruled Gaza since a 2007 takeover, has pointedly kept out of the fighting and is appealing for calm, though it has not prevented rocket fire by Islamic Jihad and the Popular Resistance Committees.
Hamas is trying not to provoke a major Israeli offensive that could undermine its control of the territory of 1.7 million Palestinians. An Israeli offensive three years ago delivered a damaging blow.
“Hamas is behaving like a responsible government in Gaza,” said Fawaz Gerges of the London School of Economics.
On Monday, four militants, a 16-year-old, a 65-year-old man and the man’s 30-year-old daughter were killed in four separate raids, Gaza health official Adham Abu Salmia said.
The teenager died while walking to school, and the father and daughter were killed when a missile struck outside their home, witnesses said. Two dozen Palestinians, including several children, were wounded in a separate pre-dawn strike. Israel said the raid targeted munitions stores in a residential building.
In Israel, thousands spent another day in bomb shelters, while others ran for cover when sirens wailed. Some 200,000 students were kept home from schools for a second day.
The Maariv daily ran a front page picture of a 10-year-old girl from Beersheba, shown lying on a street with her hands over her head. She later explained that a siren had just gone off, and she dropped to the ground because she didn’t have anywhere to run.
• Barzak reported from Gaza City, Gaza Strip. Additional reporting by Ian Deitch in Jerusalem.