The Israel Air Force struck twelve separate sites in the Gaza Strip early Sunday in an ongoing air offensive against continued rocket fire at Israel’s southern towns.
The strikes targeted a weapons factory in the northern part of the strip, another weapons facility and a “terror center” in central Gaza and six sites in the southern strip, three of them concealed rocket launchers, the IDF said.
Direct hits were confirmed on all sites.
According to an early Sunday statement from the IDF Spokesperson’s Unit, the attacks came “in response to the rocket attacks that hit Israel earlier this evening and in order to prevent further attacks on Israeli civilians.”
Palestinian media reported early Sunday that Israeli aircraft bombed two sites in the southern Gaza Strip, in the towns of Khan Younis and Rafah. In Khan Younis, the strikes caused damage to several residential homes, according to Palestinian sources.
An IDF tally of rocket falls on southern Israel counted six rockets launched from Gaza at Israeli towns late Saturday and early Sunday, for a total of 12 rockets hitting Israel over the weekend and 25 in the last two weeks. In all, 50 rockets were actually launched over the past two weeks at Israeli towns, though half did not hit Israel.
One rocket fired late Saturday slammed into a paint factory in Sderot, setting it ablaze and destroying.
“We are operating in order to return quiet to the south of the country,” Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon said in a phone call to Sderot Mayor Alon Davidi Saturday night. “We won’t tolerate the attempts by terror organizations in Gaza to disrupt the daily life of the residents of the South, and we will deal [the organizations] a painful blow,” Ya’alon vowed.
“The aggression originating from Gaza is unacceptable and will not be tolerated,” IDF spokesperson Lt. Col. Peter Lerner said in a statement early Sunday. “Gaza terrorist organizations will bear the consequences of their aggression. The IDF will continue to utilize the entire scope of its intelligence and operational capabilities in order to combat the aggression and safeguard the civilians of the State of Israel.”
According to Israeli officials, June saw a spike of rocket attacks, with 4.5 times the number of rockets launched at Israel compared to the previous month, from 13 rockets launched in May to 60 in June.
Two rockets fired at the Sdot Negev Regional Council landed in open territory Saturday, as did two of three projectiles launched at the Shaar HaNegev Regional Council earlier in the evening.
The third hit the factory in Sderot’s industrial zone, with the ensuing fire leading to four people injured.
Emergency crews were able to bring the blaze under control.
Sderot mayor Davidi said after the incident that the residents of Sderot would not be “deterred by the atrocious acts of terrorists, who fire rockets at population centers.”
“We stand firmly behind the aims of the prime minister, the defense minister and the army chief who are operating to bring the boys [kidnapped teenagers Naftali Fraenkel, Eyal Yifrach and Gil-ad Shaar] back home as well [to bring] as a sense of normalcy to us all,” he said.
The latest series of attacks came amid an escalation of hostilities and retaliatory assaults along Israel’s southern border with the Gaza Strip, as IDF troops scour the West Bank for the three missing Israeli teenagers. Israel has accused Hamas of carrying out the June 12 abduction of the teens and named two Hamas men as the suspected perpetrators.
The rocket that hit Sderot marked the first direct hit on an Israeli building since the recent escalation in rocket fire from the Hamas-controlled strip.
The Saturday violence followed a day of escalating cross-border attacks.
Early Saturday morning, Israeli planes struck Hamas military targets in the Gaza Strip in response to rocket fire from the Palestinian territory hours before.
Residents of the coastal enclave reported multiple explosions, and the IDF said in a statement that it targeted “two terror activity sites and a weapons manufacturing facility in the central Gaza Strip, and a weapons storage facility in the southern Gaza Strip.” The Israeli military confirmed direct hits.
On Friday evening, Israel’s Iron Dome system intercepted two rockets launched at southern Israel from the Gaza Strip, following the targeted assassination by Israel of two Gaza operatives responsible for rocket fire on Friday, when a total of eight rockets were fired from Gaza. Of those, six landed in open territory. No damage or injuries were reported in the Friday rocket attacks.
On Saturday, unverified footage posted to YouTube appeared to show the Israeli air strike on Friday.
The footage shows a vehicle driving along a coastal road before being struck. Passersby appeared to be unharmed.
Israel confirmed carrying out the targeted killing, naming the targets as Osama Hassumi, 29, and Mohammad Fatzih, 24, and charged that they were involved in a cell responsible for repeated rocket fire on Israel’s southern cities over the past several weeks and were planning terror attacks on Israeli civilians.
“Militants, like Hassumi and Fatzih, [who attack] Israel from Gaza, are not safe, do not have immunity, and will not be free to plan, plot and operate. We will continue to strike the instigators and agitators with patience, determination and precision. Gaza rocket terrorism does not pay,” IDF spokesperson Lt. Col. Peter Lerner said on Friday.
Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon said Friday that Hamas was responsible for every attack emanating from the Gaza Strip and warned the terror group not to test Israel’s patience or determination. His warning came after a spate of rocket attacks on Israel’s southern cities and several incidents on the border with Gaza over the past week.
“We will not allow rocket fire on Israel or attempted attacks on our civilians or troops. We will hunt down those who carry out or plan [these attacks], like we did today,” said Ya’alon.
Earlier Friday, an explosive device was activated against IDF troops operating along the security fence in the southern Gaza Strip. No injuries were reported in the incident.