In the third serious flare-up of violence in the last month, a major escalation began between Israel and Hamas militants in Gaza overnight, which involved approximately 180 projectiles fired towards Israeli territory, and more than 150 Israeli airstrikes on targets inside Gaza, according to statements by the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF).
A number of smaller scale and sporadic tit-for-tat incidents led to the start of the late Wednesday night massive exchange of rockets. These escalating incidents began Monday when an Israeli tank fired on a northern Gaza Hamas border post, killing two Hamas members. Israel claimed Hamas had fired on Israeli positions first, while a Hamas statement said the fighters had merely been involved in a military exercise and not an act of aggression against Israeli soldiers.
Another Israeli tank attack followed on Wednesday in response to what the IDF described as shots fired at civilian workers constructing an underground barrier on the Israeli side of the border wall. After sunset, the first significant barrage of rocket and mortar fire was unleashed from Gaza on southern Israel, sending civilians in the town of Sderot and other close southern settlements running for shelters while alarms across the region sounded.
Reports citing Israeli sources say of about 180 projectiles launched from Gaza overnight, the Iron Dome defense system intercepted over 30, while most hit open fields. However, official statements also noted strikes on playgrounds, houses, cars, and factories.
“IDF fighter jets targeted over 20 terror sites in military compounds and in a Hamas training camp. Among the sites targeted were a weapons manufacturing and storage facility, a complex used for the Hamas naval force and a military compound used for rocket-launching experiments,” the IDF said Thursday morning.
The BBC reports up to seven Israeli civilians wounded by the rocket and mortar fire, with Palestinian health officials confirming the death of a pregnant Palestinian woman and a toddler. The AFP identified the victims as 23-year old Enas Khammash and her 18-month-old daughter Bayan, killed in the Jafarawi area of central Gaza.
During the daylight hours early Thursday it appears that rockets and airstrikes have ceased, however, warning sirens have continued to sound in various Israeli communities across the south of the country.
An IDF statement said the overnight strikes successfully targeted “over 140 of Hamas’ strategic military sites.”
At leastone Hamas militant has been reported killed in the fighting, and this is likely not the end of this current round of violence.
Indeed on Thursday a senior Israeli army official warned that a full-blown confrontation is coming in the Gaza Strip while further suggesting the government is prepared to begin evacuations of settlements along the coast and in southern Israel.
“We are rapidly nearing a confrontation,” the IDF senior officer said as cited by the Times of Israel. “Hamas is making serious mistakes, and we may have to make it clear after four years that this path doesn’t yield any results for it and isn’t worth it.”
A separate Israeli military official said in an ominous sign of an escalating Israel-Gaza war to come: The current round of violence “is definitely not over.”
Meanwhile, a special United Nations envoy for the Middle East Peace Process, Nickolay Mladenov, condemned the voilence, saying in a statement, “I am deeply alarmed by the recent escalation of violence between Gaza and Israel, and particularly by today’s multiple rockets fired towards communities in southern Israel.”