After a short hiatus from last night, when Palestinians launched 17 rockets towards the Jewish state in response to an Israeli commando operation deep in the Gaza Strip’s territory; Palestinian Islamists, under the directives of Hamas, have launched more than 400 rockets towards Israel’s southern communities, in the last 24 hours. Only some 100 of the launched rockets were reportedly intercepted by the Iron Dome anti-rocket Defense systems, resulting in both casualties and extensive damage across Israel’s civilian communities. The IDF spokespersons unit explained that the air defense array has been challenged by the number of rockets fired by the Palestinians as “Hamas has made a concerted effort on a number of (Israeli) cities…” “That is why there have been quite a few rockets that have hit and have produced casualties.” The IDF further underscored that “Only a combination of entering bomb shelters and interceptions will reduce the number of casualties.”
The deadly escalation on the Gaza frontier started yesterday at around four-thirty in the afternoon, when the Islamist Hamas launched an anti-tank-missile at a bus that transported IDF soldiers in the Sha’ar Hanegev regional council. Following the incident, Hamas released a video of the attack and hailed its militants for “successfully targeting a bus full of soldiers with a Kornet missile.” The IDF, however, immediately released a counter-statement underscoring that only one soldier sustained serious injuries, while the bus driver suffered from shock. Both the soldier and driver were evacuated to the Soroka Medical Center in Beersheba where they are currently receiving treatment.
The anti-tank missile attack was one of the opening salvos which quickly escalated the situation. Emmanuel Nachson, Israeli Foreign Ministry Spokesman stated that “Southern Israel is under attack. In the last 24 hours more than 400 mortars and rockets were shot at Israeli cities and villages with deadly consequences. Hamas is deliberately targeting our civilian population, and this is something that we cannot and will not accept. The IDF (Israeli Defense Forces) will strike in a strong and deadly manner to make sure that the message passes across and that Hamas understands that it must stop immediately with those attacks.” In Tel Aviv, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu held an emergency meeting with Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman and IDF Chief of Staff Lieutenant General Gadi Eisenkot whom gave the Israeli Air Force the green light to step up its retaliation methods and target high-level assets belonging to the Islamist Hamas and Islamic Jihad organizations. The Israeli Air Force immediately followed the directives given to it by the political leadership, attacking – since last night – 150 targets across the Gaza Strip. The IDF spokesperson’s unit revealed this morning that the targets that were struck included: an offensive terror tunnel at Daraj Tafah; four military compounds in Gaza City, Beit Hanoun, Jabalya and Khan Yunis; and a Hamas launching site in Khan Yunis. The IDF also attacked Islamic Jihad targets, including four military compounds—two in Khan Yunis, one in Tel al-Hawa and one in Deir el-Balah. Furthermore, the Israeli Air Force destroyed Hamas’s intelligence compound and the Al-Aqsa Television Studios.
In southern Israeli, the city of Ashkelon was the community that sustained the most casualties during the attack, with multiple residential buildings sustaining direct hits. MK Haim Yalin, Former Eshkol Regional Council Chairman, commented “I heard an explosion, I saw a black cloud and I started driving toward the smoke to check if they need help and at the end I got stuck in a barrage of rockets.” An Ashkelon Resident said “I am Terrified, me and my daughter we cried before, a lot of people cried while going down stairs and there is a lot of babies here and everybody was evacuated outside, must be outside. I hope everything going to be ok.” The deadliest incident last night was reported around one thirty AM, when one of the buildings that was hit – completely collapsed on its residents, whom did not heed the directives of the rocket-alert sirens. Rescue forces initially extracted an elderly woman, around 60 years old, from the building and evacuated her in critical condition to the Barzilai Medical Center in Ashkelon. The Police, Fire Department and Medical teams believed there were no more casualties and left the scene, allowing the other residents to return to their homes. Soon thereafter, rescue forces were called to the building again by residents who found a man and a woman, both in their 40s, embraced in bed in the midst of complete destruction. Their apartment was completely destroyed, as the walls collapsed on top of them. The woman was extracted first and taken in moderate condition to the Barzilai Medical Center, while the man – who did not survive the attack – was extracted from the rubble, shortly thereafter.
While several other residential houses sustained direct hits by the intensive barrage of rockets, no additional casualties were reported among the residents, whom heeded the directives of the IDF Home Front Command and slept overnight in their bomb-shelters. Ashkelon Resident, Alexi Busa, said “We heard the siren, so we entered the shelter. We closed the door and the window, after a few seconds we heard a bomb, not a huge one – when I was in the army I had worse bombs. After a few seconds we went outside and saw this chaos. We saw that a rocket hit the window of our neighbours and fell on the floor. Our neighbour was alone at home but she was lucky, she was in another room.” While the barrage of rockets slightly diminished since this morning, sporadic rocket-fire continued to plague the southern communities of Israel. A little after noon, as rocket exploded in a kindergarten in the Sha’ar HaNegev Regional Council. Thankfully, the kindergarten was closed as a result of the Home Front Command’s instructions to halt all school activities across southern Israel.
According to the Israeli Home Front Command, the intensity of the Palestinian rocket fire matched the hostilities that were recorded during the 2014 Gaza war. As a result – Since Monday afternoon – One civilian was killed, and more than eighty were injured.
Meanwhile in Gaza, the Spokesman for the Islamist Hamas organization accused Israel of bearing full responsibility for the latest escalation, while vowing to continue the so-called “armed struggle” against the Jewish state. According to the Hamas spokesman, Fawzi Barhoum, “The Israeli enemy struck a pivotal strike for all the regional and international parties that were seeking to strike understandings to strengthen ceasefire and to end the crisis of the Gaza Strip. The Israeli enemy isn’t interested in a calm and it’s not interested in an end to the blockade of Gaza. The Israeli occupation is the one responsible for ugly crime and these stupid actions. The Palestinian resistance will never abandon its duty in making occupation pay the price for all these crimes and foolish acts.” While the leadership of the Islamist organizations in Gaza went into hiding in their underground bunkers, Palestinian residents of Gaza voiced frustration as the devastating consequences of yet another round of fighting. According to Gazan Resident Mazen Tarbaan, “Hundreds of families are displaced? where we will go to? I was displaced from Shejaia, in 2014 war when my house was hit. I came and bought in a safe place. Where is the safe place? Where is the safety? where should we go to? emigrate? We are not emigrating. Our relative emigrated in 1948. We are staying.”
It is important to note that the assessment in Jerusalem, according to several officials, is that the current round of fighting—according to the most ‘reasonable’ scenario that works for both sides—will last no longer than two days. That said, the so-called ‘reasonable’ scenario is liable to deteriorate easily into all-out war.”