As Israel wages a war in Gaza aimed at dismantling Hamas’s military capacity, the armed group and its affiliates have continued to fire rockets at Israel nearly every day, aiming deep inside its borders and striking some of the country’s biggest cities.
Since Hamas led a terrorist attack on southern Israel on Oct. 7, Hamas and other armed groups have fired about 12,000 rockets from Gaza into Israel, a quarter of them on Oct. 7, the Israeli government has said. Most rockets fired from Gaza were shot down by Israeli air defenses before they were able to make impact. But the ongoing salvos are an indication of the size of Hamas’s arsenal and its continued ability to strike deep inside Israeli territory.
In nearly three months of war, 15 people in Israel have been killed in strikes and about 700 others injured, according to Israel’s emergency service.
In southern Israel, along the Gaza border, rocket attacks have long been a fact of life. But since the start of the war, Israelis across the country have become accustomed to the scream of air raid sirens.
In recent weeks, sirens have sounded in central Israeli cities, including Tel Aviv. Residents in Jerusalem were sent running to safe rooms and shelters in December for the first time in over a month.
“It’s really sad seeing mothers with babies running to the shelters,” said Hannah Reback, 24, who was in Tel Aviv last week when the sirens were activated.
The death toll from the rockets in Israel is far smaller than the toll of Israel’s military campaign in Gaza, where more than 20,000 people have been killed, according to Gazan health officials. But Israeli officials have said the rocket attacks show that Hamas and its allies in Gaza continue to terrorize Israeli civilians.
“If we don’t diminish Hamas’ rocket-firing capabilities, Hamas will continue firing rockets at Israelis,” the Israeli military’s chief spokesman, Rear Adm. Daniel Hagari, said on Wednesday.
Many of the roughly 3,000 rockets that Hamas fired during the first few hours of its Oct. 7 attacks were intercepted by Israel’s Iron Dome air defense system, but they nevertheless sent Israelis at a music festival into roadside bunkers, where militants massacred them. They were among some 1,200 people killed in Israel during the Hamas-led attacks.
The Israeli military has spent much of the war in Gaza targeting Hamas’s strike capabilities. Many rocket launches early in the war were from northern Gaza, where the Israelis say they now have operational control. In recent weeks, the frequency of the barrages from Gaza has decreased, according to Zohar Palti, a defense expert and a former director of intelligence for Mossad, the Israeli spy service.
The military recently publicized video that it says shows rockets and launching infrastructure that soldiers found in Gaza near a mosque, in a compound used for youth activities, in playgrounds and near children’s swimming pools. Israel has accused Hamas of using civilian centers like hospitals and crowded neighborhoods as cover for their military operations.
In a phone interview on Wednesday, Zaher Jabareen, a member of the Hamas political leadership, dismissed accusations that Hamas fighters use civilian areas to hide and fire rockets as “lies and slander” by Israel.
Israel began using its Iron Dome defense system to intercept short-range rockets in 2011. The system has significantly reduced fatalities from rocket strikes, but shrapnel from interceptions can be deadly, and the system does not intercept all rockets.
Hamas’s arsenal consists mostly of locally made short-range rockets, which are smaller and less precise than the missiles and large bombs used by Israel’s military and other armies.
Between 10 and 20 percent of Hamas’s rockets fail and fall into Gaza, Human Rights Watch said in a recent report, citing Israeli military data. The group said any rocket that is fired indiscriminately into a civilian area could constitute a war crime, even if the target was unintentional.
In Ashkelon, one of the most frequently targeted parts of Israel, the Barzilai hospital has been hit twice by rocket fire since Oct. 7. The child development institute and gynecology department were damaged, along with a bridge that connects separate hospital wings, officials said. The facilities had largely been cleared out when the war began, and no one was injured.
“The last 20 years, we had one round of war after another,” said Dr. Ron Lobel, the director of emergency and disaster medicine at the hospital, adding: “This round was something very exceptional.”
Ben Hubbard contributed reporting from Istanbul, Johnatan Reiss from Tel Aviv and Myra Noveck from Jerusalem.