TEL AVIV, Israel — A revolutionary Israeli rocket-defense system knocked down an incoming rocket fired by Gaza militants over the skies of this bustling metropolis on Saturday, eliciting cheers from relieved residents huddled in fear.
The new attack – the third on Tel Aviv in as many days – comes after Israel said it had bombarded the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip with nearly 200 airstrikes earlier Saturday, widening a blistering assault on Gaza rocket operations to include the prime minister’s headquarters, a police compound and a vast network of smuggling tunnels.
The interception provided a psychological boost for Israel, which has been bombarded by hundreds of rockets since it launched a military offensive Wednesday against the Hamas Islamic militant group in the Gaza Strip.
AP Television News footage showed a plume of smoke rising from an “Iron Dome” rocket-defense battery deployed near the city, followed by a burst of light overhead. The smoke trailed the intercepting missile.
People sheltered along Tel Aviv’s beachfront boardwalk, scrambling for cover after air raid sirens went off, cheered after the interception occurred.
Gaza militants also targeted Tel Aviv, Israel’s commercial and cultural center, some 70 kilometers (45 miles) north of Gaza, on Thursday and Friday.
The attacks on Tel Aviv, and a separate strike near Jerusalem on Friday, reflect the progress militants have made in upgrading their rocket technology. The current round of fighting is the first time the rockets have reached Israel’s two largest cities.
Israel launched its military offensive on Wednesday, killing the Hamas militant group’s military chief and striking dozens of rocket-launching sites in the Gaza Strip. It has carried out hundreds of airstrikes since then in what it says is a campaign to halt years of rocket fire out of Hamas-ruled Gaza.
Although it claims to be inflicting heavy damage on Hamas, militants continue to fire hundreds of rockets into Israel.
Israel says the Iron Dome system has shot down some 250 incoming rockets, most of them in southern Israel near Gaza. Saturday’s interception was the first time Iron Dome has been deployed in Tel Aviv.
The Israeli-made system identifies the flight path of incoming rockets and shoots down projectiles headed toward populated areas.
In all, 42 Palestinians, including 13 civilians, and three Israelis have been killed in this week’s fighting.