The steady escalation of rocket fire from terrorists in Gaza continued Friday morning, despite the IDF's ultimatum to Hamas the previous night to stop the rocket fire within 48 hours or else it would launch an attack.
Five rockets were fired in the morning towards the Gaza Belt area and Sderot. Three of them exploded in open territory, one was shot down by the Iron Dome anti-missile defense system, and the fifth fell in Gaza. No damage or injury was reported from the barrage.
In response, the IDF fired smoke shells at northern Gaza near Beit Hanoun on Friday morning, apparently in an attempt to lessen the visibility and harm the terrorists' ability to target Israel with their rockets.
A few hours later four more rockets were launched by Gaza terrorists, towards Kibbutz Kerem Shalom located adjacent to the southern end of Gaza by the Sinai border,falling in open territory.
Simultaneously, two mortar shells exploded in open territory in the Eshkol Regional Council area after "Color Red" warning sirens were sounded. No injuries or damage were reported in either incident.
Palestinian sources said the 48 hour ultimatum was delivered by Israel through Egyptian Intelligence to the head of Hamas's political bureau, Musa Abu Marzuk, who is in Cairo. A Hamas spokesperson responded by saying the terror group was not intimidated.
Roughly the same time as the five-rocket salvo was launched Friday morning, BBC reported that a Hamas source claimed to them a ceasefire was to be announced "within hours," saying the truce was brokered by Egypt.
A senior IDF source responded to the reports of a looming ceasefire, saying "the ball is in Hamas's court. We told Hamas that quiet will be responded with quiet, and if there won't be quiet they will take a very hard blow," reports Yedioth Aharonoth.
"The message is very clear and was transmitted very clearly. If they'll accept on themselves a unilateral ceasefire and there will be quiet - great," added the source.
A lack of "quiet"
Over 15 rockets and roughly as many mortar shells rained in on Israel Thursday afternoon, causing two fires - one in the Sderot industrial area - and damaging several homes.
The mortars inflicted mild wounds on an IDF soldier, who took shrapnel to the leg; there were no reports of other injuries. Residents of the region were instructed to remain in their shelters.
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu addressed the massive rocket escalation on Thursday, saying Israel is preparing for two possibilities: “one – that the fire will stop and then our operations will also stop; and the second, that the fire will continue and then our forces will act forcefully.”
"We are looking for calm, not escalation, but if Hamas chooses to act against us, we shall be ready," IDF Chief of Staff Lieutenant General Benny Gantz said in remarks on the IDF's Twitter account.
Calls for a military operation
Sderot residents apparently ran out of patience with the ongoing rocket attrition, after over 40 rockets have been fired since Wednesday. Around 100 residents of Sderot protested at the entrance of the city Thursday, calling for a military mission in Gaza to stop the rockets.
While Gaza terrorists have escalated the rockets since June 12 when three Israeli teens were abducted and murdered by Hamas terrorists, the recent upswing comes after an Arab youth in Jerusalem was found murdered Wednesday, with widespread claims of it being an act of Jewish "revenge."
However, great doubt was cast on the "revenge" theory after a Channel Two report noted Abu-Khder's parents gave conflicting testimony to police over a previous alleged attempted kidnapping of their younger son. Mohammed's mother claimed that "settlers" had attempted to snatch the boy, while the father insisted the assailants were in fact Arabs.
A senior former police official told Arutz Sheva on Wednesday that the Abu-Khder family is known to the police as a "problematic" family with severe internal conflicts, saying "I have no doubt that as time passes it will be clarified that the murder was criminal and nothing more."