TENS of thousands of Israelis huddled in bomb shelters to escape a massive blitz of nearly 200 terror rockets.
The missile attack, which began on Wednesday night, reached as far as the southern cities of Ashkelon and Beersheba.
It was the heaviest rocket spate since the 2014 Gaza war. Several roads to the South were closed in case Israeli cars were targeted.
One woman — a foreign worker from Thailand — was seriously hurt with stomach wounds yesterday when a missile hit a home in the Eshkol area. On Wednesday evening, an Israeli man in his 30s was “moderately” injured after being hit by shards of broken glass in Sderot.
And a man in his 20s was treated for wounded limbs after being hit by shrapnel in the border town as rockets were intercepted by Israel’s Iron Dome defence system.
Iron Dome intercepted at least 25 missiles as they headed towards populated areas. Most of the others landed in open areas.
The website Ynet quoted a senior Israel Defence Forces source as saying that the escalating tensions might lead to a broader military operation in the Gaza Strip.
“We are closer to a wide-scale operation than we’ve ever been,” the source added. “We will send reinforcements to the south. If necessary, the residents of the Gaza border communities will be evacuated.”
UN special envoy Nickolay Mladenov said: “If the escalation is not contained immediately, the situation can rapidly deteriorate with devastating consequences for all people.”
As Israeli warplanes retaliated by striking more than 150 terror sites across the Gaza Strip, at least three Palestinians were reported killed.
The escalation came as Egypt was trying to broker a long-term ceasefire between the two sides.
And, ironically, it began a day after reports that Hamas wanted to conclude a “peace agreement” with Israel by the end of this month.
Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz said: “It is possible this is just the beginning.”
He added that there are two options — a military operation in Gaza or a peace deal with Hamas.
And Israeli Cabinet minister for construction Yoav Galant said that “whatever is needed to be done to defend our civilians and soldiers will be done, no matter what the price in Gaza”.