The armed wing of Hamas claimed Thursday that it had begun using a new rocket that can reach anywhere in Israel, as the Gaza-ruling terror group launched a major barrage of rockets at the center and south of the country on Thursday afternoon.
“Rockets were launched toward Ramon Airport with the Ayyash missile with a range of 250 kilometers (155 miles),” Abu Obeida, spokesman for Hamas’s military wing, said in a statement.
The rocket was named for Yahya Ayyash, a top Hamas bomb-maker who was responsible for dozens of Israeli deaths before he was assassinated in 1996.
Among the sites Hamas said it targeted was Eilat’s Ramon Airport, to which Israel diverted some air traffic earlier in the day, after halting incoming passenger flights to Ben Gurion International Airport over rocket attacks.
No sirens were heard in the rocket fire toward Eilat, as the projectile landed in an open area far outside the city, where it caused neither injury nor damage. However, the Haaretz daily said the Israel Defense Forces was surprised by the range of the rocket, which flew over 200 kilometers (some 125 miles), having previously believed rockets in the terror group’s arsenal maxed out at some 160 kilometers (nearly 100 miles).
Abu Obeida said Muhammad Deif, the Hamas military chief, called for “international airline companies to immediately cease their flights to any airport in occupied Palestine,” implicitly threatening that they could be hit. Several US airlines have already begun canceling flights to Israel due to the rocket attacks.
“We tell the enemy: Your airports and every point from northern Palestine to its south is in the reach of our rockets,” Abu Obeida said.
Hamas also said it had launched a number of “suicide drones,” unmanned aerial vehicles carrying explosive payloads, into southern Israel from the Gaza Strip. The military confirmed downing at least two such drones.
Channel 12 news reported that the drones appeared to have primitive capabilities and did not seem to represent a serious danger. However, residents of Gaza-adjacent communities were temporarily ordered to stay indoors due to the drones.
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The Israel Defense Forces released video footage showing an F-16 fighter jet shooting down one of the armed suicide drones that was launched from Gaza Strip toward a target off the coast.
In the video, the fighter plane can be seen locking on to the “suicide drone,” which carried a roughly five-kilogram explosive payload, before destroying the unmanned aircraft with a missile.
Abu Obeida said the attacks were “part of our response to the assassination of our heroic leaders and engineers,” adding that the rockets used were partially developed by those who had been killed.
On Wednesday morning, the Israel Defense Forces and Shin Bet security service conducted a large-scale operation targeting a number of top commanders in Hamas, including the head of its Gaza City battalion and several people involved in its weapons production operations in the Strip, the military said.
According to the IDF, some 1,600 rockets and mortar shells have been fired toward Israel by terror groups in the Gaza Strip since fighting broke out on Monday evening. Roughly a fifth of those landed inside the Palestinian enclave, and, in at least one case, killed a number of children when the rocket hit a school.
Hundreds of the incoming projectiles have been intercepted by Iron Dome missile defense batteries, according to the military, which refuses to give precise statistics on the matter, as they could be used by terror groups to find ways to outmaneuver the system.
The IDF on Thursday said the air defense system had a roughly 90 percent interception rate of projectiles heading toward populated areas. Terror groups have been launching rockets in massive barrages to try and overwhelm the system.
On Wednesday night and Thursday morning, the Israeli military expanded its targets in the Gaza Strip to include institutions that Hamas uses to rule the Palestinian enclave, notably, its treasury and banks, IDF Spokesperson Hidai Zilberman said.
The military on Thursday said it had so far bombed upwards of 600 targets in the Strip, over 100 of them in the previous 24 hours.
The IDF’s campaign in Gaza, officially dubbed Operation Guardian of the Walls, has so far been conducted primarily by airstrikes, as well as artillery shelling from the ground and the sea. The military said it was preparing for the possibility of a ground incursion, however.
Zilberman said plans for a ground invasion would be presented for approval by the IDF General Staff on Thursday, at which point they would be given to Israel’s political leadership for consideration.
A total of seven people have been killed in Israel, including four people who died on Wednesday, among them a soldier killed by an anti-tank missile and a 5-year-old boy hit by shrapnel in Sderot.
Gaza’s Hamas-run Health Ministry said the death toll there rose to 87 Palestinians, including 18 children on Thursday. The IDF said dozens of those killed were members of terrorist groups, some of whom were actively preparing to launch attacks on Israel when they were hit.
The Palestinian Islamic Jihad confirmed the deaths of seven of its members, while Hamas acknowledged that a top commander and several other members were killed. Israel and a Palestinian human rights group, Defense for Children, have said that several of the civilians were killed by Hamas rockets falling short inside Gaza, not by Israeli attacks, though Defense for Children does claim at least some of the children were killed by Israeli strikes.
The Israeli military also claims that the number of terrorists that have been killed since Monday is much higher than Hamas has acknowledged.
Judah Ari Gross and Aaron Boxerman contributed to this report.