Defense Minister Benny Gantz on Friday warned the terror groups in Gaza that the Israel Defense Forces will deliver a “very harsh blow” if violence continues, after a night that saw 12 rockets fired toward Israel and three rounds of reprisal airstrikes by Israeli warplanes.
“The IDF is ready, it defends and will continue to defend the residents of the south and will attack any one who attacks us and deliver a very harsh blow,” Gantz said after a meeting with senior IDF officers.
IDF chief of staff Aviv Kohavi met with the heads of the Southern Command and “heard a situational assessment and authorized the command’s plans for various scenarios,” the IDF said. Gantz joined the briefing via video conference.
Israel’s warning comes after the Hamas terror group issued its own threats.
“Israel must bear the consequences and pay the price for the continued aggression against Gaza, the tightening of the siege, the disruption of the lives of residents and the bombing of resistance facilities,” a Hamas statement read. “The resistance clarifies that it will not hesitate to wage a campaign against Israel if the escalation and bombings continue.”
Friday morning saw a renewal of fires in the south caused by incendiary balloons launched from Gaza toward Israel. Two blazes in the area under the jurisdiction of the Hof Ashkelon Regional Council were brought under control by firefighters.
The IDF said it carried out three sets of strikes overnight and in the early hours of the morning in response to rocket fire, targeting underground infrastructure belonging to Hamas, a cement facility used to provide materials for tunnels dug by Gazan terror groups and a site where rockets are produced.
The IDF later released footage of the strikes, saying it showed aircraft bombing Hamas “military facilities, weapons production sites and underground infrastructure.”
The Shehab news outlet, which is linked to Hamas, reported that at least one person was injured during the strikes east of Khan Younis, in southern Gaza. The Gaza health ministry did not report any injuries.
Twelve rockets were fired at southern Israel from the Strip on Thursday evening and in the early hours of Friday morning, the IDF said. Nine of them were intercepted by the Iron Dome missile defense system, the military said.
“We hold Hamas responsible for all terror activity emanating from Gaza,” the military added.
The rockets marked a major escalation, even as tensions have ramped up over the past several weeks with sporadic rocket fire and hundreds of balloons carrying incendiary devices being launched toward Israel, drawing near-daily Israeli reprisal fire.
A home in the southern Israeli town of Sderot sustained considerable damage in one of the attacks.
Pictures of the home showed a kitchen blown apart, windows smashed and large holes in walls and the roof. Reports indicated that the damage was likely caused by shrapnel from an interception.
The owner of the home said he believed he and his wife miraculously escaped after warning sirens failed to wake them.
“It’s a miracle [that we’re okay],” Shlomo Malka told Hebrew media outlets. “We did not hear the alert at all, we were awoken by the explosion.”
“It cut the house in two. It hit the roof of the secure room,” he said, referring to the shelter within the house. “Suddenly we heard explosions and smelled smoke. We ran to the police station,” he told the Ynet news site. “It was only after we left [the house] that we saw the destruction.”
President Reuven Rivlin issued a statement saying Israel would respond to the violence with “force and determination.”
“Israelis living in the area around Gaza had another tough night, including serious damage to property. This morning, too, we are with them and have full of appreciation for their resilience,” Rivlin said in a statement.
“We will not stand by while Hamas is out of control. The IDF will respond with force and determination, sortie after sortie, and will continue even if it requires patience and time,” Rivlin said.
The IDF boosted the number of Iron Dome batteries in the south of the country in response to the uptick in violence.
It also ordered the cessation of agricultural work near the border fence with the enclave until further notice.
Over the past few weeks, terrorists in the enclave have again begun launching balloon-borne incendiary and explosive devices into southern Israel, sparking dozens of fires that caused environmental and property damage in the region.
Those attacks have drawn daily retaliatory Israeli strikes against Hamas installations.
The apparent uptick in fighting late Thursday and early Friday comes amid truce efforts being brokered by Egypt.
A ceasefire in place for years, which has already been renewed several times, is bolstered by millions of dollars in financial aid from Qatar to Gaza. But complaints from Hamas that Israel has failed to live up to its side of the bargain have been accompanied by sporadic flare-ups on the border.
AFP contributed to this report.