Booms were heard following an air raid siren in Tel Aviv Thursday evening, just an hour after a rocket from the Gaza Strip exploded in an open field outside of Rishon Lezion. There were no reports of injuries in either strike.
The attacks mark the first time the center of the country was hit in the renewed violence from the Gaza Strip and the first time that a real siren was sounded in Tel Aviv since the Gulf War in the early 1990s. Palestinian Islamic Jihad took responsibility for the rocket on Tel Aviv.
The rockets, among over 420 fired from Gaza into the South since the IDFÂ launched Operation Pillar of DefenseÂ Wednesday to root out the terror infrastructure in the coastal territory, landed less than 15 km south of Tel Aviv. The operation began with the Wednesday afternoon targeted killing of Ahmed Jabari, the chief of Hamas's military wing.
The first rocket fired toward the Center hit in an open area near Rishon Lezion. The second rocket fired toward the greater Tel Aviv area "did not hit the ground," the IDF Spokesman said.
Earlier Thursday, three people were killed and two others injured in a direct hit on a Kiryat Malachi apartment building. Hours later, a rocket fired into the Eshkol region injured three IDF soldiers, two moderately.
MDA paramedics treated five wounded people at the site of the Kiryat Malachi attack, in which a rocket hit a four-story building. Three people were pronounced dead on the scene and two others were suffering moderate injuries, including a baby.
A house in Ashdod and a school in Ofakim near Beersheba also sustained damage from rockets on Thursday morning. Rockets also landed in the Eshkol Regional Council area, Gan Yavne and Ashkelon.
The IDF Spokesman's Office stated the Iron Dome rocket defense system has successfully intercepted more than 85 rockets since the operation began.
A separate IDF spokesman confirmed that all Palestinian terror factions took part in rocket fire overnight Wednesday, with Hamas trying to take the lead.
He added that the IDF "believes the rocket fire will intensify." Tank fire also was directed at terror targets, he said.
Since beginning its operation, the IDF has struck nearly 250 Hamas and Islamic Jihad targets in Gaza, including several terrorist cells preparing to fire rockets at Israel and medium-range rocket launchers located across the Strip.
Palestinian sources said that 15 people were killed in Gaza as a result of the IAF strikes, with more than a hundred suffering injuries.
The spokesman concluded by describing the Hamas-ruled Strip as "a forward Iranian base," and urged the populace to remain steadfast, as "home front resilience is vital for the continuing operation."
Schools within 40 km. of the Gaza Strip were declared closed Thursday, and residents were urged to follow directives from the IDF Home Front Command. Magen David Adom paramedics treated 13 Israelis for injuries suffered overnight prior to the fatal strike in Kiryat Malachi, the organization said. Of the injured, four suffered light wounds while nine more suffered shock symptoms.
Gaza-border communities were in lockdown, with residents ordered to remain in their homes if they live within 7 km. of Gaza.
Explosions have been reported as far away as Dimona, some 75 km. from the Gaza Strip.
At an emergency meeting in Tel Aviv on Wednesday, the security cabinet authorized Defense Minister Ehud Barak to mobilize reservists if needed.
The cabinet also agreed that the IDF should continue to act against terrorist infrastructure and activity in Gaza. It instructed the Foreign Ministry to begin a diplomatic public relations campaign to explain that Israel was acting in self-defense against military targets, as the continued rocket barrage had become intolerable.
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu spoke on the telephone on Wednesday night with US President Barack Obama, Vice President Joe Biden and EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton. He was also scheduled to speak with UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.
The prime minister thanked Obama and Biden for taking the position that Israel had a right to defend itself.
The military operation immediately increased tensions with Egypt, which condemned Israel's actions and recalled its ambassador.
Tovah Lazaroff and Reuters contributed to this report