image Photo: Flash90

Israel-Gaza conflict intensifies

Israel’s Operation Guardian of the Walls to end Gaza rocket fire and restore security on the home front entered its 5th day today, with no sign of de-escalation.

While there has yet to be an IDF ground invasion into Gaza, today marks the beginning of artillery fire from the Israeli side of the border.

IDF troops also mounted extensive air strikes against Palestinian terrorists and their infrastructure in the Gaza Strip amid constant rocket fire deep into Israel’s commercial center and other population centers.

IDF Spokesman Lt. Col. Jonathan Conricus said that while ground forces had taken part in the 40-minute, pre-dawn offensive, that none had crossed into the Gaza Strip.

160 aircraft as well as artillery and armored units deployed outside the Hamas-controlled enclave participated in what Lt. Col. Conricus describes as the largest operation against a specific target since the fighting began.

“What we were targeting is an elaborate system of tunnels that spans underneath Gaza, mostly in the north but not limited to, and is a network that the operatives of Hamas use in order to move, in order to hide, for cover,” he said in a briefing to foreign reporters.

“We refer to (it) as the Metro,” he said, adding that a final assessment on the outcome of the operation was pending.

The most serious fighting between the two sides since their last war in 2014 began on Monday, 10 May; after the enclave’s ruling Hamas group fired rockets at Jerusalem and Tel Aviv in retaliation for Israeli police clashes with Palestinians near al-Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem.

At least 1,800 rockets have been fired at Israel, of which about a third have fallen short and landed in the Gaza Strip, the Israeli military said, adding that an estimated 90% of all incoming missiles have been intercepted by the Iron Dome aerial defense system.

The death toll in Israel has reached 7. The fatalities are 6 civilians – including a an elderly woman who fell on the way to a shelter on Friday, 2 children, an Indian caregiver and a soldier patrolling the Gaza border. Over 200 civilians have been injured, along with 2 IDF soldiers.

Palestinian officials say that at least 119 have been killed in Gaza, including 31 children and 19 women; and that more than 600 people have been injured. The IDF says that at least 90 terrorists are among the dead.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warned last night that the campaign “will take more time,” but vowed that, “with great decisiveness, both defensively and offensively, we will achieve our goal – to restore quiet to the State of Israel.”

Netanyahu made the statement after being briefed at an Iron Dome battery in the center of the country by defense commander Brig.-Gen. Gilad Biran, 127th Battalion commander Lt.-Col. Maor Gavriel and battery commander Capt. Asaf Ohana.

The Israeli leader then spoke with soldiers who told him about the operational activity, and thanked them for their contribution to the security of the residents of Israel.

Israeli officials said Hamas, Gaza’s most powerful terrorist  group, must be dealt a strong deterring blow before any ceasefire.

Earlier on Wednesday, Prime Minister Netanyahu warned, that “Whoever attacks us – his blood is on his head.” He then offered his congratulations to the Israeli Security Agency (ISA)- which is better known by its Hebrew acronym “Shabak” for the “Shin Bet” – the Air Force, Southern Command and the IDF for an operation that targeted senior Hamas commanders.

According to an official statement obtained by TV7, a joint ISA-IDF operation targeted senior members of the Hamas “General Staff Forum” including the Gaza City Brigade commander, the head of the cyber command and improving Hamas’s missiles and the head of its production network.

The statement identified the 4 targeted in the attack as follows:

  1. Bassem Issa – Gaza City Brigade commander since 2017 and senior military official in the city. Over the years he had been involved in many terrorist attacks and also served as a leader in the organization’s production network. He led previous rounds of fighting with Israel. Targeting him will significantly affect the functioning of the brigade and of Hamas’s military arm.
  2. Jamaa Tahla – Head of Hamas’s cyber command, leader of its missile improvement project and head of its R&D department. He was Muhammad Deif’s right-hand man a main leader of the effort to build up the organization’s strength; targeting him is a significant blow to that effort.
  3. Jamal Zebeda – Head of projects and development for Hamas’s production network, was a main force behind the organization’s rocket production network. He held a Ph.D in mechanical engineering with a specialty in aerodynamics. He had various technological skills, was one of Hamas’s leading R&D experts and was also engaged in advancing projects to build up the organization’s strength.
  4. Hazzem Hatib – Chief engineer and deputy head of Hamas’s production network.

Other senior figures who were killed in the attack during which Hamas’s main R&D facility, including much equipment, was destroyed:

Sami Radwan – Head of the military intelligence technical department

Walid Smali – Head of the production network industrial equipment department

Approximately ten additional militants from the Hamas production and R&D networks were also killed.

Hamas nevertheless remains defiant.

“Mass up as you wish, from the sea, land and sky,” taunted the spokesman of the terror group’s armed wing the Qassam Brigades, in response to Israel’s troop call up of 7,000 reservists while calling on Palestinians to rise up.

“We have prepared for your kinds of deaths that would make you curse yourselves,” said Abu Ubaida.