A rocket fired from the Gaza Strip hit a house in the largest city in southern Israel early on Wednesday, prompting Israeli air strikes that killed a terrorist in the Palestinian enclave.
The attacks came a day after Egyptian mediators started a round of talks with officials from the Hamas Islamist group that controls Gaza, as part of efforts to negotiate a long-term ceasefire after months of violence along the border with Israel.
The rocket hit a two-story house in Beersheba before dawn, the Israeli military said. It gutted most of the home, blowing out concrete walls and its stone facade, showering its yard and an adjacent street with rubble.
The family living there managed to take shelter in a reinforced room after alert sirens sounded, said officials in the city about 40 kilometers (25 miles) from the Gaza Strip.
Another rocket launched from Gaza and aimed at central Israel fell into the Mediterranean Sea, the military said.
With a nod to the Egyptian talks, Hamas and other major terror groups in Gaza took the unusual step of denying responsibility, saying they rejected “all irresponsible attempts to sabotage the Egyptian effort, including the firing of the rockets” on Wednesday.
There was no immediate claim of responsibility from any of the other smaller groups that operate in Gaza.
Israeli cabinet minister Tzachi Hanegbi told Israel Radiothat there was evidence to back up the Hamas statement. But he said Israeli policy dictated an “immediate and forceful retaliation” against Hamas targets because the organization controls Gaza.
Israel‘s military said it struck armed training camps in Gaza and also targeted a squad about to launch a rocket.
Health officials in Gaza said a 25-year-old Palestinian man, identified by Al-Mujahedeen Brigades — a small terror faction — as one of its members, was killed. Five other Palestinians were wounded in separate attacks.
Many people in Gaza awoke to the sounds of explosions. Families crowded into a nearby hospital where the dead man’s mother collapsed over his body.
Pillars of smoke rose from the sites bombed by Israel, including a port Hamas is constructing in the southern Gaza Strip and a naval police position.
A senior Egyptian delegation has been holding talks with Hamas in Gaza since Tuesday on a ceasefire with Israel and ways to end 11 years of division with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’ Fatah faction in the West Bank.
A Palestinian source said Egyptian officials in Gaza have been in touch with Israel to try to avoid further escalation.