JERUSALEM (AP) — Palestinian militants launched several rockets into southern Israel, as Israeli aircraft struck targets in the Gaza Strip early Wednesday in the heaviest exchange of fire between the sides since they agreed to an internationally brokered cease-fire in November.
There were no casualties reported, but the violence nonetheless threatened to shatter the calm that has prevailed for more than four months and prompted Israel's new defense minister to warn that the Jewish state will not sit back if militants attack the south of the country.
"We will not allow shooting of any sort (even sporadic) toward our citizens and our forces," Moshe Yaalon, a former military chief of staff, said in a statement.
Although there was no claim of responsibility for the rockets fired from Gaza early Wednesday, Yaalon said he holds the Islamic militant group Hamas, which has ruled Gaza since 2007, responsible for all such attacks from the seaside strip.
Israel launched an offensive against Hamas last November in response to an increase in rocket fire out of Gaza. During eight days of fighting, Israel carried out hundreds of airstrikes in Gaza, while Gaza militants fired hundreds of rockets into Israel. More than 160 Palestinians, including dozens of civilians, and six Israelis were killed in the fighting before Egypt brokered a truce.
In recent weeks, there have been a handful of rocket attacks, including one that took place as President Barack Obama was visiting Israel two weeks ago. Overnight Wednesday, Israel responded for the first time by striking a pair of empty fields in northern and eastern Gaza.
But just around the time Yaalon was speaking on Wednesday morning, two more rockets exploded in the Israeli border town of Sderot, according to police. Air raid sirens sounded throughout the town, forcing people on their way to work and school to take cover. No injuries were reported.