Massive barrage of 50 rockets fired at Ashkelon, Ashdod; 3 buildings hit
Defense Minister Benny Gantz approved the call up of 5,000 reservists on Tuesday as the IDF prepared for a large-scale offensive in the Gaza Strip as rocket attacks against southern Israel continued.
IDF Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Aviv Kohavi also ordered the reinforcement of the Gaza Division with infantry and armored brigades along with the continued redeployment of intelligence and air units.
Kohavi also ordered the continued striking of Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad weapons and storage sites as well as the expanding of the strikes to other targets including operatives of the terror groups.
“The IDF will continue to act resolutely to restore security to the residents of the south, and all commands must prepare for the expansion of the campaign, with no time limit,” the IDF said in a statement.
The IDF struck over 130 targets throughout Gaza overnight Monday as southern Israel was bombarded by over 250 rockets since Monday afternoon, injuring at least 31 Israeli civilians.
In retaliation to the rocket fire that terror groups said came as part of an operation called “Sword of Jerusalem”, the IDF carried out waves of airstrikes against terror targets in an operation they call “Guardians of the Wall.”
On Tuesday, at about noon, Palestinians said that IDF struck an apartment in an 8-story building in the Rimal neighborhood in Gaza, killing two senior Palestinian Islamic Jihad commanders and fatally wounding the brother of Baha abu Al-Ata who was killed in a targeted IDF operation 2019.
Hamas’s al-Qassam brigades confirmed the report, saying that the IAF struck while operatives were meeting to “raise readiness and repel the aggression.”
Shortly afterwards, a number of barrages of rockets were fired towards Ashdod and Ashkelon, with three residential buildings hit directly by rockets, leading to light injuries.
Hamas took responsibility for the barrages, stating that the "Al-Qassam Brigades directed the largest missile strike so far on the occupied cities of Ashdod and Ashkelon, in response to the enemy's continued targeting of houses and resistance men, and the next is greater, God willing."
Targets by overnight by Israel included the home of a Hamas battalion commander in a multi-story building, the organization’s military intelligence headquarters, munition manufacturing sites, military complexes belonging to Hamas and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad, as well as two offensive tunnels that were close to the border fence. The strikes also killed 15 Hamas terrorists.
The IDF announced on Tuesday morning that it struck an anti-tank cell in the Gaza Strip.
Palestinian WAFA news agency reported that a total of 25 people including children were killed in the strikes and another 103 were injured.
The wave of airstrikes began after the security cabinet authorized a "significant airstrikes" in the Gaza Strip.
IDF Spokesman Brig.-Gen. Hidai Zilberman warned that the military is “prepared for a variety of scenarios” including an escalation and said that the operation would last “several days” and would deal a hard blow to Hamas.
As such, the IDF has deployed additional Iron Dome batteries to the southern Gush Dan region.
The 101st Battalion of the Paratroopers Brigade and the Egoz commando unit were called up to southern Israel and the 202nd Battalion was called up to the West Bank on Tuesday morning.
Under orders from the IDF Home Front Command, local councils - within a 40 kilometer radius of the Gaza Strip - shut schools on Tuesday and banned large public gatherings. Under the restrictions, only 10 people can gather outside and 50 inside, as long as there is a bomb shelter nearby that can accommodate all participants.
Expecting the violence to reach the center of the country, the cities of Tel Aviv-Jaffo, Ramat Gan, Givatayim, Rishon Letzion, Nes Ziona and Bnei Brak opened public bomb shelters.
“We will continue to act vigorously against Hamas and other terror organizations,” he said, adding that Hamas is responsible for “what is happening and will bear the consequences.”
Referring to the casualties in Gaza, Zilberman said that while Israel “takes precautions” to minimize possible harm to civilians during its military operations, Hamas “deliberately places its military assets in the heart of the civilian population in Gaza.”
The spokesman stressed that while 200 rockets were fired towards Israel, ⅓ of the rockets fell inside Gaza. The Iron Dome, he said, had a 90% success rate in intercepting dozens of rockets fired from the Strip.
Nevertheless several homes sustained direct hits from the rocket fire.
One rocket struck a house in Nir Am, in the Sha'ar Hanegev Regional Council, shortly after midnight on Monday night. No injuries were reported.
On Tuesday morning, around 6 a.m., a wave of rockets hit two residences in Ashkelon. One rocket hit a family home, the father suffered moderate-to-serious injuries to his head and the mother was in moderate condition and the children suffered from light injuries. Later in the day, a number of residential buildings in Ashdod and Ashkelon were hit by rockets.
The rocket which hit the second home in Ashkelon lightly injured two people. All six were evacuated to Barzilay Medical Center in Ashkelon, with the hospital reporting that it had received 31 patients in connection with the rocket strikes on Tuesday.
Hamas had threatened Israel on Monday that it would launch the rockets due to the ongoing clashes in Jerusalem and shortly after 6 p.m. seven rockets were fired towards the capital.
Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh said on Monday night that "Jerusalem has called and Gaza has responded. We will continue as long as Israel does not stop the aggression and terrorism in Jerusalem and at the al-Aqsa Mosque."
On Monday night, Zilberman said that the combined rocket attacks towards Jerusalem, Gaza border communities and the anti-tank guided missile that hit a civilian vehicle “is a significant event that won’t go by quietly.”
“Hamas will feel our response to this event...it will not last several minutes, but days,” he warned.
Hamas warned Egyptian officials overnight on Monday that the terrorist groups in Gaza refused to engage in any negotiations unless Israel withdraws security forces from the Temple Mount and Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood and releases all those detained in recent clashes in Jerusalem and the West Bank, according to Al-Araby Al-Jadeed. Hamas also demanded the cancelling of planned evictions in Sheikh Jarrah.
The terrorist group told Egyptian officials that they were "completely dropping" previous agreements reached with Israel and starting at square zero.
Egyptian officials estimate that Israel and Gaza are heading to a further escalation. The officials reportedly asked for time to try and contain the crisis and persuade Israel to take a step back before clashes reach "the point of no return."
Hamas warned that it had a bank of targets that it could hit with "great success" and new missiles that it would use for the first time, if their demands aren't reached in the coming hours.
Similarly to Hamas, the IDF is also not expressing interest in a ceasefire at the moment, with IDF Spokesperson Brig.-Gen. Hidai Zilberman stating in response to questions about a possible ceasefire "Talk to the Palestinians. I know nothing about that."
An anti-tank guided missile also struck a civilian vehicle near Sderot, causing light injuries to the driver who was just several meters from his vehicle. He was transferred to hospital for medical treatment.
According to reports, Palestinian Islamic Jihad fired the ATGM. In May 2019 the group fired another towards another civilian vehicle killing 64-year-old Moshe Feder from Kfar Saba.
Zilberman said on Monday evening that the combined rocket attacks towards Jerusalem, Gaza border communities and the anti-tank guided missile that hit a civilian vehicle “is a significant event that won’t go by quietly.”
According to Zilberman, “Hamas will feel our response to this event...it will not last several minutes, but days.”
Calling it an “inexcusable event,” Zilberman warned that “If Hamas doesn’t understand it yet, they will understand after what we do. We have a number of options on the table.”
The Shaar Hanegev Regional Council announced that it would be cancelling all extracurricular activities in the council.
An IDF drill, known as “Chariots of Fire,” which was meant to be the military’s largest exercise and would have involved all units of the IDF was postponed. Chief of Staff Aviv Kohavi ordered the IDF to focus its efforts on preparation and readiness for the possible scenarios of escalating [violence],” the military said in a statement.
The military has also sent reinforcements from the elite Maglan commando unit and two training companies from the IDF Officer’s School to the Gaza Division.
Following the rocket-fire, the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT), Maj.-Gen. Rassan Alian announced the immediate closure of the Erez and Kerem Shalom Crossings until further notice, except for humanitarian and exceptional cases.
“The Hamas terrorist organization is accountable for all that is done in and from the Gaza Strip toward the State of Israel, and it will therefore bear the consequences for the violence committed against the country's citizens,” COGAT said in a statement.
Alian reiterated remarks made earlier that Israel “is committed” to allow freedom of worship in Jerusalem but would not allow violence and the violation of law and order. There is a difference between freedom of worship and “unbridled” violence and terrorism, he said.
“Some of the participants believe sincerely that they are protecting the holy sites. But in fact, they are defiling them during the blessed month of Ramadan and on Qadr Night (Laylat al-Qadr). The participants are being cynically incited and exploited by those who are trying to escalate and inflame the situation, using violent and inciteful rhetoric on social and mainstream media,” he said.