image Photo: Flash90

3 killed in Tel Aviv rocket attack

More than 1,100 rockets have been indiscriminately fired from the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip toward Israel’s southern and central civilian communities, while the IDF has simultaneously been conducting hundreds of strikes against targets across the Palestinian enclave.

A massive Hamas rocket attack on Tel Aviv and its vicinity last night claimed the lives of 3 people, bringing the Israeli death toll in the current conflict to 6.

Early this morning, a 52-year-old man and his 16-year-old daughter were killed when a rocket fired from Gaza hit their home in an Arab area near the city of Lod.

A 65-year-old Israeli woman was killed in the Rishon LeZion, south of Tel Aviv. A 5-year-old girl was hurt in the same attack.

Hostilities between Israel and Hamas escalated dramatically yesterday, with the most intensive aerial exchanges for years.

Air raid sirens and explosions were heard in Israeli communities more than 70 km (45 miles) up the coast and into the south amid sounds of explosions as interceptor missiles streaked into the sky towards the incoming rockets.

A bus driver was seriously injured when his bus burst into flames caused by the explosion of a rocket.

Pedestrians ran for shelter, and diners streamed out of Tel Aviv restaurants while others flattened themselves on pavements as the sirens sounded.

The Ben Gurion International Airport was temporarily closed to protect outbound and incoming flights, and the IDF Homefront Command instructed all residents of the Tel Aviv area to remain in their bomb shelters overnight.

Hamas claimed it fired the heavy missile salvo at the major metropolitan area in response to an earlier Israeli air strike that downed a tower block in Gaza. The IDF said that the building, housed “multiple” offices belonging to the terror group, including ones for military research and development and military intelligence.

The IDF carried out 4 separate drone ‘roof-knock warnings’ prior to striking the 13-storey Hanadi Towers building in the Rimal neighborhood of Gaza City to give time for residents to vacate the premises. CNN reported that the building’s doorman was seen speaking on his cell phone with someone in Israel, who also instructed him to help residents leave the site. Other eyewitnesses reported that the Israeli warnings came at least an hour before the attack.

“We are now carrying out our promise,” the Islamist organization’s armed wing said in a statement. “The Qassam Brigades are launching their biggest rocket strike against Tel Aviv and its suburbs, with 130 rockets, in response to the enemy’s targeting of residential towers.”

“If the enemy persists in bombing civilian towers, then Tel Aviv will have an appointment with a harsh missile strike that exceeds what happened in Ashkelon,” vowed Abu Ubeidah, spokesman for the Hamas armed wing.

The IDF maintains that around a third of the rockets have fallen short, landing and causing fatalities within Gaza.

Violence continues to rage today.

21-year-old IDF Staff Sgt. Omer Tabib was killed when an anti-tank guided missile fired into southern Israel from the northern Gaza Strip near Moshav Netiv HaAsara hit his vehicle this morning. Another soldier was critically injured in the attack.

Israel carried out hundreds of air strikes on Gaza into Wednesday morning, as the Islamist group and other Palestinian militants fired multiple rocket barrages at Tel Aviv and the southern city of Beersheba.

Israel said its jets had targeted and killed several Hamas intelligence and Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) Leaders over the past 2 days. According to the IDF and Shin Bet Security Agency, those killed includE the Head of the Hamas Military Intelligence Security Department Hassan Kaogi and his deputy Wail Issa, who led the Military Intelligence Counter Espionage Department and was the brother of the Hamas Deputy Commander Marwan Issa. Others include the head of the PIJ’s rocket unit, Samih al-Mamluk, in a direct airstrike; Eyad Shrir, who led the Hamas anti-tank unit; and Mohamad Abu al-Atta, who was the brother of the PIJ Northern Brigade commander in Gaza Bahaa, Abu al-Atta, who was assassinated by Israel in late 2019.

Other IDF airstrikes were aimed at eliminating Gaza’s rocket-firing capabilities, by targeting launch sites and storage facilities, which were deliberately set up in heavily-populated areas.

For Israel, the targeting of the Tel Aviv commercial center poses a new challenge in the confrontation with the Islamist Hamas, regarded as a terrorist organization by Israel and several other countries including the United States.

The violence followed weeks of tension in Jerusalem during the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan, with clashes between Israeli police and Palestinian protesters in and around Al-Aqsa Mosque, on the compound revered by Jews as Temple Mount and by Muslims as the Noble Sanctuary.

These escalated in recent days ahead of a – now postponed – ruling by the High Court of Justice on an appeal by Palestinians who have been ordered to vacate east Jerusalem property in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood found to be Jewish-owned.

Hamas has dubbed its rocket assault the “Sword of Jerusalem,” seeking to marginalize Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and to present itself as the defender of Palestinians in Jerusalem. The terror group’s leader, Ismail Haniyeh, said Israel had “ignited fire in Jerusalem and Al-Aqsa and the flames extended to Gaza, therefore, it is responsible for the consequences.”

Clashes have also erupted in the West Bank, where a 26-year-old Palestinian was killed during rock-throwing riots at IDF troops in a refugee camp near the city of Hebron.

There appears to be no imminent end to the violence.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warned that militants would pay a “very heavy” price for the rocket attacks, which began during Jerusalem Day celebrations for reunification of the capital in the 1967 Six Day War. The Monday attack marked the first time Hamas fired missiles at Jerusalem since the 2014 Israel-Gaza War – which claimed the lives of 73 Israelis and more than 2,100 Gazans were killed in the 7 weeks of fighting.

The first Israeli casualties were inflicted yesterday, when 2 women in Ashkelon were killed and over 100 others injured during what Hamas claimed was its largest ever salvo from Gaza.  One of the victims has been identified as  30-year-old Indian national Soumya Santhosh, who was reportedly working in Israel as a caregiver and the mother of a 9-year-old son.

Following their deaths, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the IDF would step up its attacks on Gaza, and that Hamas “will now be dealt blows that it did not expect.”

“We are in the midst of a campaign,” which has been dubbed Operation Guardian of the Wall, he said, while urging “patience and a certain sacrifice on your part, citizens of Israel.”

The Israeli leader made the statements following a late-night security assessment at IDF Southern Command headquarters on Tuesday with Defense Minister Benny Gantz, IDF Chief-of-Staff Lt. Gen. Aviv Kochavi, the head of the National Security Council, GOC Southern Command and other senior officials.

Later this evening, Netanyahu is slated to convene the Security Cabinet. “There have been difficult developments, including anti-tank fire” from Gaza, he said, vowing that “We will respond – and are responding – with increasing force,” but declined to elaborate further.

The outbreak of hostilities led Netanyahu’s political opponents to suspend negotiations on forming a coalition of right-wing, leftist and center-left parties to unseat him after an inconclusive March 23 election.

Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid has three weeks left to establish a government, with a new election – and another chance for Netanyahu to retain power – likely if he fails.

This is the heaviest offensive between Israel and Hamas since a 2014 war,