Israel targeted ‘key Hamas strategic assets’ in Sunday’s barrage
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Israel targeted ‘key Hamas strategic assets’ in Sunday’s barrage

IDF takes advantage of rocket fire from Gaza to take out terrorist infrastructure; Liberman: ‘We won’t allow them to rearm’

Judah Ari Gross is The Times of Israel's military correspondent.

Palestinian militants of the Islamic Jihad movement arrive to inspect a crater on August 22, 2016 in Beit Lahia in the northern Gaza Strip, following an Israeli airstrike the day before that targeted Hamas positions in the Gaza Strip in response to a rocket fired from the Palestinian enclave hits the Israeli city of Sderot. 
AFP / Mahmud Hams
Palestinian militants of the Islamic Jihad movement arrive to inspect a crater on August 22, 2016 in Beit Lahia in the northern Gaza Strip, following an Israeli airstrike the day before that targeted Hamas positions in the Gaza Strip in response to a rocket fired from the Palestinian enclave hits the Israeli city of Sderot. AFP / Mahmud Hams

In Sunday night’s bombardment, the Israel Defense Forces struck “key Hamas strategic assets” in the northern Gaza Strip, military sources said Tuesday, shedding more light on the harsher-than-expected response to a rocket attack from the coastal enclave.

After a projectile from Gaza landed in the southern Israeli town of Sderot on Sunday, the IDF retaliated with what has become the routine response of a limited strike, hitting two Hamas installations in the northern Gaza Strip, the army said.

Hours later, the IDF conducted another, considerably larger barrage, carrying out approximately 50 strikes against Hamas infrastructure in the Gaza Strip, using both tanks and aircraft.

These targets were not directly related to the rocket launch, nor were they only an attempt at creating a deterrent effect. Rather, the IDF took advantage of the opportunity presented by the attack to take out Hamas strategic assets.

An Israeli police sapper carries part of a rocket fired by Palestinian militants in the Gaza Strip from the yard of a house in the city of Sderot, southern Israel, Sunday, August 21, 2016. AP /Tsafrir Abayov.
An Israeli police sapper carries part of a rocket fired by Palestinian militants in the Gaza Strip from the yard of a house in the city of Sderot, southern Israel, Sunday, August 21, 2016. AP /Tsafrir Abayov.

With few exceptions, the army’s policy toward Hamas in Gaza has been only to retaliate, not to initiate, an officer in the IDF’s Southern Command told The Times of Israel in November.

Though the IDF often has extensive intelligence on the terrorist group’s dealings in the Gaza Strip, “we don’t respond to everything, because we don’t want to escalate the situation,” the officer said.

When a rocket is fired into Israel, however, that dynamic changes and the IDF has a certain legitimacy in targeting terrorist infrastructure in the coastal enclave, as occurred on Sunday night.

A Palestinian man loads stones on a cart next to a crater in Beit Lahia in the northern Gaza Strip on August 22, 2016, following an Israeli airstrike the night before that targeted Hamas positions in response to a rocket fired from the Palestinian enclave that hit the Israeli city of Sderot. (Mahmud Hams/AFP)
A Palestinian man loads stones on a cart next to a crater in Beit Lahia in the northern Gaza Strip on August 22, 2016, following an Israeli airstrike the night before that targeted Hamas positions in response to a rocket fired from the Palestinian enclave that hit the Israeli city of Sderot. (Mahmud Hams/AFP)

It was immediately noted that Israel’s bombardment on Sunday was larger than most retaliatory strikes.

“There were approximately 50 airstrikes within two hours,” a senior military official told The Times of Israel. “But there is no intention to escalate the situation further.”

Hamas quickly claimed the response was an attempt by Israel to change the status quo in Gaza — and Israel agreed.

“You can’t expect the State of Israel to allow [Hamas] to rearm itself, to steal money from the residents of Gaza. They are levying taxes and not constructing buildings, but tunnels,” Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman said on Tuesday morning at an army base in the Galilee.

Palestinian security sources in Gaza said several targets in the northern Strip were struck by Israeli fire, and that a reservoir in Beit Hanoun was damaged. Israel also hit a base belonging to Hamas’s military wing, the Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades, in nearby Beit Lahiya, witnesses said. Palestinian health and security sources said between two and five people were lightly wounded by Israel’s retaliatory fire.

Hamas officials have decried the Israeli bombardment, but have not indicated that they intend to respond immediately.

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