The Israeli military will not hesitate to enter the Gaza Strip in order to strike Hamas and protect Israeli citizens, Defense Minister Ehud Barak said on Sunday evening, following more than a day of rocket fire from the Gaza Strip.
The defense minister made it clear that “if we are forced to go back into Gaza in order to deal Hamas a [serious] blow and restore security for all of Israel’s citizens, then we will not hesitate to do so.”
Islamic Jihad reported late Sunday that an Egyptian-mediated ceasefire between Israel and Hamas took effect at 9:30 p.m. local time, however sporadic rocket fire from the Strip continued into the night, with 3 rockets landing in the Shaar Hanegev regional council. No injuries or damage were reported.
Barak placed full responsibility for the weekend rocket barrage on Hamas, the Islamist terrorist group-turned-political party that has ruled the Gaza Strip since a violent coup in 2007.
“The firing [of rockets] has been relentless today. As far as Israel is concerned, Hamas is responsible for the rocket fire and all other attempts to harm our soldiers and civilians [from Gaza], even when other groups participate. And it is Hamas that will pay the heavy price; a price that will be painful,” Barak warned.
“During the last two days, the IDF, upon my instruction, has been evaluating a host of options for harsher responses against Hamas and the other terror organizations in Gaza. We will strike with an ever-growing intensity,” he said, adding, “Hamas and the other terror organizations recognize the capabilities of the IDF.”
Palestinian terrorist groups fired more than 140 rockets at southern Israel from the Gaza Strip on Saturday and Sunday.
One struck a home in the border town of Sderot and another hit a house in the Shaar Hanegev region. Four Israeli civilians were injured in the two-day rocket barrage.
In a related incident, four Israeli soldiers were wounded on Saturday when their jeep was hit by an anti-tank missile.
Israeli retaliatory strikes against targets in the Gaza Strip since the escalation began on Saturday have left six Palestinians dead and dozens wounded.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was set to meet Monday with foreign ambassadors, in what was described as an effort to boost legitimacy and understanding for a possible wider Israeli response to the rocket fire from Gaza. Netanyahu was expected to tell the envoys that their countries would not tolerate the kind of onslaught southern Israel has had to endure.
Israel unilaterally removed its citizens and soldiers from Gaza in August of 2005. In response to relentless rocket fire, the IDF launched an air and ground campaign — Operation Cast Lead — into the Hamas-controlled Strip in late-2008.