Defense Minister Yoav Gallant on Wednesday told his US counterpart Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin that Israel was prepared to wage a “prolonged campaign” in Gaza, as some of Israel’s other allies condemned Palestinian rocket fire against Israeli civilians.
Gallant and Austin spoke during a day of fighting that saw southern Israeli cities hit by rocket fire, and IDF reprisals in the Gaza Strip, after Israel assassinated three leaders of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad terror group early Tuesday.
According to Gallant’s office, he and Austin “discussed recent security developments in Israel, including 400 rockets fired” toward Israel, and the killings of the Islamic Jihad leaders.
Gallant noted “the IDF’s readiness for every operational scenario, including a prolonged campaign and multi-front challenges,” his office said.
The US said Austin “underscored his continued support for Israel’s right to defend its people from indiscriminate rocket attacks launched by terrorist groups.”
“Secretary Austin reaffirmed his ironclad support for Israel’s security and urged de-escalation towards a sustainable calm,” the US statement said, adding that Austin had Gallant will remain in close contact in the coming days and weeks.
As of Wednesday night, the IDF said Palestinians in the Gaza Strip had launched 469 rockets and mortars at Israel.
According to the military, 333 of the projectiles crossed the border, 107 fell short in Gaza, and the rest landed in open areas without causing damage. Air defense systems intercepted 153 of the rockets, while a handful landed in urban areas, some causing damage.
The military also said it had carried out strikes against 133 targets belonging to Islamic Jihad during the campaign, dubbed Operation Shield and Arrow, which began with the killing of the group’s senior officials.
Some of Israel’s allies condemned the rocket fire by Islamic Jihad against Israeli civilians.
The German Foreign Ministry decried the “massive rocket attacks” by Islamic Jihad in a statement.
“There is no justification whatsoever for these indiscriminate attacks and they must stop immediately,” the statement said. “There are already too many innocent victims to mourn this year. The people of Israel and Gaza have the right to live in peace and without fear.”
France’s Ambassador to Israel Eric Danon slammed the rocket fire and called for restraint “to prevent further escalation.”
“Any attack on civilians blatantly violates international law, regardless of its origin,” he said.
Lord Tariq Ahmad, the UK’s minister for the Middle East region, denounced the “indiscriminate rocket fire from Gaza targeting innocent civilians in Israel.”
“Attacks on civilians are unacceptable, and this violence must stop. The UK calls for an immediate cessation of these attacks — the only lasting solution is for peace to prevail,” he said in a statement.
The office of UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres voiced “deep concern” over the violence and warned Israel it must adhere to international law.
“Israel must abide by its obligations under international humanitarian law, including the proportional use of force and taking all feasible precautions to spare civilians and civilian objects in the conduct of military operations,” a spokesperson for Guterres said in a statement.
“The secretary-general condemns the civilian loss of life, including that of children and women, which he views as unacceptable and must stop immediately,” the statement said.
Guterres also “condemns the indiscriminate launching of rockets from Gaza into Israel, which violates international humanitarian law and puts at risk both Palestinian and Israeli civilians,” his office’s statement said.
No physical wounds have been reported in the rocket attacks against Israel, though a number of people sought treatment for injuries suffered as they tried to reach shelter, or severe anxiety from nearby impacts.
Wednesday night’s barrages caused damage to homes, buildings and cars across southern Israel, and were said to disrupt ceasefire negotiations.
At least 21 people in Gaza have been killed since Israel launched the surprise offensive on Tuesday morning, according to the Hamas-run Health Ministry in Gaza, and another 64 injured. The figure includes both terrorists targeted by Israel and civilians.
Operation Shield and Arrow was launched early Tuesday as the IDF assassinated Khalil Bahtini, who commands Islamic Jihad in northern Gaza, Jihad Ghanem, a top official in the group’s military council, and Tareq Izz ed-Din, who it said directed Islamic Jihad terror activities in the West Bank from a base in Gaza. Ten others were also killed in the coordinated strikes, including women and children, Gaza authorities said.
In a subsequent strike on Tuesday afternoon, members of an Islamic Jihad cell allegedly en route to carrying out an anti-tank guided missile attack on the Gaza border were killed.
Previous strikes on Islamic Jihad leaders have been answered with barrages of rockets on Israeli civilians and intense battles with Israeli troops, some lasting several days.
Also early Wednesday, two members of a local wing of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad in the West Bank were killed in a shootout with IDF forces.
Emanuel Fabian contributed to this report.