JERUSALEM — Israel deployed its newly developed "Iron Dome" rocket defense system for the first time Friday to defend its southern communities from attacks by Gaza militants after a bloody week of Palestinian strikes and Israeli reprisals.
There was no rocket fire on Friday when Israeli defense minister Ehud Barak visited soldiers at a military base near the Gaza border and announced the new system was being put into use.
"We won't allow terror to reach our cities. If the shooting continues, we will respond as needed," Barak told reporters. He said he had approved the Iron Dome deployment as "an operational experiment." He said this is the first battery and that it would "take years for Israel to be fully equipped" with a system that would protect the entire area.
He said Israel did not want to see an escalation in this week's violence.
Israel developed the system to protect its civilians from the thousands of rockets fired over the years from Palestinian militants in the south and Lebanon's Hezbollah in the north.
Palestinian militants have been firing rockets at Israel for almost a decade and Hezbollah pummeled northern Israel with over 4,000 rockets in the 2006 war.
Millions of Israeli civilians are within rocket range.
The Iron Dome system uses cameras and radar to track incoming rockets and shoot them down within seconds of their launch. It was developed at cost of more than $200 million.
The Israeli military said the battery will be operational in a few days but would not elaborate. The system "will provide part of the answer to the threat of rocket fire at Israel's southern communities, not discounting shelters and offensive measures," the military said.
Violence along the Gaza border has escalated for several weeks.
Last Saturday, Gaza militants bombarded southern Israel in the heaviest mortar barrage since a military campaign in Gaza two years ago aimed at ending daily rocket attacks by Palestinian militants.
Also this week, Israeli shelling missed its target and killed three children and their uncle in Gaza.
As the violence increased on the border, a bomb exploded at a bus stop in Jerusalem on Wednesday, killing a British tourist and injuring dozens of Israelis.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Friday that his country "will not tolerate such wanton attacks on its civilians, and we stand ready to act with great force and great determination to put a stop to them."
Netanyahu spoke before a meeting with visiting U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates.
Earlier Friday, a Palestinian struck a soldier in the head with a rock as he waited for a bus in the West Bank, the military said. The Palestinian was then shot and wounded by Israeli police. Both men were evacuated to a hospital by helicopter, the military said.