After over a hundred rockets fired from the Gaza Strip pummeled central Israel on Tuesday night, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said that Hamas and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad terror groups will “pay a dear price” for their attacks on Israeli civilians.
“Their blood is on their heads,” Netanyahu said of the terror groups’ leadership, delivering statements alongside Defense Minister Benny Gantz and IDF Chief of Staff Aviv Kohavi.
“We stand united in the face of a vile enemy. We all mourn the dead and pray for the wounded and stand behind the IDF forces,” the prime minister said after a day that saw three Israeli fatalities from the rocket fire.
Rocket sirens blared repeatedly throughout central and southern Israel on Tuesday evening, sending millions of Israelis rushing for shelter, as Gaza-based terror groups fired multiple long-range rockets from the coastal enclave toward Tel Aviv and its suburbs.
The Hamas terror group, which rules Gaza, claimed to have launched over 130 rockets in the volley — an unprecedented onslaught.
In the central city of Rishon Lezion, a woman was killed by a rocket strike. Rockets also hit the Tel Aviv suburbs of Holon and Givatayim, injuring at least eight people, some of them seriously, police said.
Israeli jets earlier on Tuesday evening destroyed a 13-story residential building in Gaza City, in a retaliatory airstrike to the hundreds of rockets fired from Gaza since Monday afternoon.
Netanyahu said that the military has so far struck hundreds of targets in the Gaza Strip and will continue to conduct raids in the enclave.
“We continue with full force,” he said. “Hamas and [Palestinian Islamic] Jihad has paid and will pay a heavy price.”
But he added that “this campaign will take time.”
Saying that it “simply saves lives,” Netanyahu called on Israelis to follow all safety instructions issued by authorities.
The Israel Defense Forces’ Home Front Command had instructed all residents of central and southern Israel to enter bomb shelters during the attacks. The Home Front Command also ordered schools shuttered south of Herzliya Wednesday amid the rocket bombardments from Gaza.
“With determination, unity and strength, we will restore security to the citizens of Israel,” Netanyahu vowed.
Speaking after Netanyahu, Defense Minister Gantz said Israel has “a great many targets in the pipeline” that it can yet strike in Gaza.
He said terror organizations “have been severely hit and will continue to be hit due to their reckless decision to fire at Israel.”
He also called for calm between Arabs and Jews within the country.
“The IDF keeps everyone safe, Jews and Arabs alike,” he said, calling for “all Israelis to behave responsibly and avoid violence.”
IDF Chief Kohavi said that the Israeli military has conducted strikes on over 500 targets in the past day and a half as part of the “Guardians of the Walls” operation, killing dozens of terrorist operatives, which he said have been painful to Palestinian terror groups in the enclave.
“We are determined to strike terror groups in the most serious way possible,” Kohavi said.
The IDF chief said the military will continue to conduct strikes on Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad sites in the Gaza Strip and is prepared for a wider conflict.
Shin Bet chief Nadav Argaman, speaking at the same event, said it was “insufferable” for a terrorist organization to be threatening Israel, and added: “Now is not the time for talking.”
Hamas and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad terror groups reported that several high-ranking commanders were killed in Israeli raids, including three top PIJ leaders in a drone strike on a building in the upscale Rimal neighborhood of Gaza City.
One of those killed was the brother of another top PIJ commander, Baha Abu al-Ata, who was killed in an Israeli strike in November 2019, kicking off a major round of fighting in the Strip. Islamic Jihad vowed revenge for the death of the three commanders in its armed wing, saying the response will be “harsh.”
Additionally, the IDF said it killed the head of Islamic Jihad’s special rocket unit, in an operation carried out in cooperation with the Shin Bet. Sameh Abed al-Mamluk was killed along with several other senior rocket officials, the army said.
According to the IDF, the military’s targets also included the home of a top Hamas commander, Hamas’s intelligence headquarters in southern Gaza, two attack tunnels that approached the border with Israel, rocket production and storage sites, observation posts, military installations and launchpads.
The IDF said it was also targeting terrorist operatives as they fired rockets or attempted to launch anti-tank missiles at Israel. On Monday, an Israeli man was lightly injured when Palestinian terrorists fired an anti-tank guided missile at his car.
Hamas, which is officially dedicated to the destruction of the State of Israel, took effective control of the Gaza Strip in 2007 from the Palestinian Authority in a violent coup. Since then, Israel has imposed a naval blockade on the enclave, as well as stiff control over what can enter the Strip, maintaining that it is necessary in order to prevent terror groups from smuggling weapons into the area.
The military initially believed that Hamas was not interested in a large-scale conflict with Israel at this time, but that assessment changed over the past two days and the IDF began preparing accordingly.
Palestinian terror groups have tied the attacks to the unrest in Jerusalem to both tensions on the Temple Mount during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan and the pending eviction of a number of Palestinian families from their homes in East Jerusalem’s Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood.
Israel has fought three large operations against Hamas and other terror groups in the Gaza Strip since 2008, most recently in 2014 with a 51-day war known as Operation Protective Edge.