- Associated Press - Wednesday, March 12, 2014

JERUSALEM (AP) — Militants in the Gaza Strip fired at least 20 rockets Wednesday into southern Israel, sending civilians rushing into bomb shelters but causing no casualties in the largest barrage in months.

Israeli police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said one rocket exploded near a gas station and another near a public library.

The military said its “Iron Dome” defense system intercepted at least three of the rockets, while the others fell in open areas. The barrage set off air-raid sirens in southern communities within range of the rockets.

In Gaza, the Islamic Jihad militant group claimed responsibility for the attack. It said it fired 20 rockets to avenge the deaths of three of its members killed in an Israeli airstrike the day before.

Another Gaza militant group, the Popular Resistance Committees, said they fired several rockets as well.

Israel’s military said more than 20 rockets were fired. Israeli media reported more than 50 rockets were fired.

The Iranian-backed Islamic Jihad has killed dozens of Israelis in suicide bombings and other attacks over the years. Israel’s military said they had targeted the militants on Tuesday after they fired at Israel.

Gaza militants have fired thousands of rockets and mortars at Israel. Attacks have declined since an eight-day Israeli offensive against Gaza militants in 2012 but rocket fire still persists. Israeli aircraft periodically strikes militants that launch the rockets.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu vowed to continue striking the Gaza rocket launcher squads.

“We will continue to thwart (rocket attacks) and hit those that want to harm us, and we will act against them with great force,” Netanyahu said. “Last year, the number of rockets fired from Gaza was the lowest in a decade but that is not enough. We will continue to act to ensure the security of the citizens of Israel in the south and in the entire country.”

The Israeli military said Gaza militants fired 32 rockets toward Israel so far this year compared to 49 in 2013. Militants fired rockets at southern Israel on an almost daily basis before that.

An Associated Press reporter standing on a balcony saw more than a dozen rockets being fired from the southern outskirts of Gaza City.