Hamas pummels south, central Israel with rocket salvos on 10th day of fighting

Gaza-ruling terror group launches 230 projectiles since 7 a.m., injuring soldier and civilian and causing damage; IDF continues strikes in Strip

Israeli security forces at the scene where part of a rocket fired from the Gaza Strip landed in the southern port city of Ashdod, May 19, 2021. (Flash90)
Israeli security forces at the scene where part of a rocket fired from the Gaza Strip landed in the southern port city of Ashdod, May 19, 2021. (Flash90)

Palestinian terrorists in Gaza fired volleys of rockets at southern and central Israel on Wednesday, injuring an Israeli soldier and civilian, and causing some damage, as the Israeli military struck targets linked to Hamas on the 10th day of fighting in the coastal enclave.

Some 230 rockets and mortar shells from the Gaza Strip were fired toward Israel over the past 12 hours, the Israel Defense Forces said on Wednesday evening. Of these, 30 failed to clear the border and landed within Gaza territory, according to the military. Soldiers operating the Iron Dome missile defense system intercepted roughly 90 percent of the incoming projectiles heading toward populated areas, the IDF said.

An IDF soldier sustained shrapnel wounds to his arm, and at least 11 more were lightly injured while running to bomb shelters, medics said.

Several rockets directly struck several houses in Sderot, causing damage and leaving a 72-year-old man lightly-to-moderately injured.

Another rocket landed in a public park in the southern port city of Ashdod, making a hole in the ground. Police sappers were on the scene.

Several other rockets were intercepted by the Iron Dome missile defense system, while others landed in open areas. The Israel Fire and Rescue Services said firefighters were working to douse a number of blazes sparked by rocket fire. It said none of the fires endangered any nearby communities.

Rockets are fired by Palestinian terrorists toward Israel, near Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip, May 19, 2021. (Said Khatib/AFP)

Rocket warning sirens were also heard in the city of Rehovot and the Shfela region in the center of the country and in the southern cities Ashkelon, Kiryat Malachi and Netivot, along with numerous other communities in the south, including several Bedouin towns.

For the second time in two days, Israel’s military liaison to the Palestinians said mortar shells were fired at the Kerem Shalom border crossing after it was reopened to transfer humanitarian aid into Gaza, leading the army to halt the shipments.

The aid had been donated by Jordan and included medical equipment for a hospital sponsored by Amman in the Strip, according to the military liaison, known formally as the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories.

While trucks were going through the crossing into beleaguered Gaza, at least three mortar shells were fired toward the terminal “and it was decided to halt the entrance of shipments until further notice,” COGAT said.

Israel shuttered the Kerem Shalom Crossing, the main passage for goods into Gaza, last Monday with the outbreak of fighting. It reopened temporarily on Tuesday but was closed again after rockets were fired both at Kerem Shalom and at the Erez Pedestrian Crossing, injuring one soldier assisting in the transfer.

“The terrorist activities of Hamas, which conducted launches, again and again, at shipments carrying civilian aid and medical equipment to the Strip first and foremost harms the residents of the enclave,” COGAT said.

A truck passes into Gaza through the Kerem Shalom crossing, the main passage point for goods entering the Strip from Israel on May 18, 2021. (Said Khatib/AFP)

Hamas’s military wing claimed responsibility for the rocket fire. “This is in response for [Israel’s] targeting of civilians and their homes,” it said.

Israel, meanwhile, continued to carry out strikes in Gaza, destroying three launchpads that were used to fire the rockets and a mortar at Beersheba, according to the IDF. The military said the launchpads were destroyed in Khan Younis in southern Gaza and Beit Hanoun in northern Gaza.

Earlier, the IDF said, it hit four Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad terrorists attempting to launch rockets into Israel from the Gaza Strip.

Other targets the IDF said it bombed during the day included sites linked to Hamas military intelligence, the opening of a tunnel, an observation post and an Islamic Jihad weapons production facility.

Prior to the intense barrages in the afternoon, sporadic sirens were heard in the south since the morning, following a several-hour lull in the rocket fire.

Hamas claimed to target Israeli Air Force bases with several volleys fired at southern and central Israel late Tuesday and early Wednesday. IDF Spokesperson Hidai Zilberman on Wednesday morning said the military had no indications that a rocket struck any of its air bases. In one case, a projectile landed in an open field well outside the Tel Nof base near Rehovot, he said.

No injuries or damage was reported in the overnight attacks, in which the IDF said some 50 rockets were fired from Gaza.

On the other side of the Gaza border, Israeli jets operated the entire night, striking dozens of targets throughout the Strip, according to the Hamas-affiliated Palestinian Media Center, which published pictures and footage of the bombing.

In a statement Wednesday, the IDF said the overnight raids included an attack by fighter jets on three Hamas operatives in an “operational safe house” in Gaza City that was part of the terror group’s cyber-warfare apparatus.

“The apartment was used by the operatives for offensive cyber operations against Israeli targets, which are acts of terror for all intents and purposes,” it said in a statement.

Palestinians inspect the damage following an Israeli air strike in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip, on May 19, 2021 (Abed Rahim Khatib/Flash90)

In one round of strikes on Tuesday night, more than 50 Israeli Air Force jets using over 120 bombs struck an underground tunnel network in southern Gaza, destroying some 12 kilometers (7.5 miles) of it over the course of 25 minutes, according to the IDF spokesman.

It was the fifth round of airstrikes that the IDF has carried out against Hamas’s sprawling subterranean complex, which Israel refers to as “the metro.” This included strikes on a network of tunnels in Rafah used by Hamas in the 2014 Gaza war to grab the remains of IDF soldier Hadar Goldin, who was killed in an ambush on August 1, during what was meant to be a ceasefire, which Hamas violated.

Also Wednesday, several rockets were fired from Lebanon toward northern Israel, with the IDF in response shelling the area from which they were fired.

Rockets have been fired from Israel’s northern neighbors several times over the past week, including six that were launched Monday but apparently fell short of the border.

The IDF believes that a small Palestinian faction — not the Lebanese terror group Hezbollah group — was responsible for Monday’s attack, according to military spokesperson Hidai Zilberman.

Hebrew media reports on Wednesday said the assessment among security officials was that a Palestinian group was also behind Wednesday’s rocket fire.

Meanwhile, various international actors continued in their efforts to reach a ceasefire.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (L) and US President Joe Biden (R). (Flash90/AP)

In another phone call with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, US President Joe Biden said Wednesday he expects “a significant de-escalation today on the path to a ceasefire,” according to a White House readout.

“The two leaders had a detailed discussion on the state of events in Gaza, Israel’s progress in degrading the capabilities of Hamas and other terrorist elements, and ongoing diplomatic efforts by regional governments and the United States,” the statement said.

It added: “The president conveyed to the prime minister that he expected a significant de-escalation today on the path to a ceasefire.”

Shortly after, Netanyahu thanked Biden for his support without mentioning the US president’s call to rein in the fighting.

“I’m determined to continue this operation until it accomplishes its goal — restoring calm and security to you, Israeli citizens,” he said in a statement after visiting IDF headquarters.

On Tuesday, a UN Security Council meeting broke up without issuing a statement, but France then said it had proposed a more forceful resolution calling for a ceasefire, in coordination with Israel’s neighbors Egypt and Jordan. If introduced, it would force the Biden administration to issue its first Security Council veto if it wants to continue blocking such efforts in the top UN body.

While Channel 12 reported that an Egyptian ceasefire initiative had borne fruit and was slated to go into effect on Thursday morning, officials on all sides issued denials. A diplomatic source familiar with Egypt’s efforts told The Times of Israel that negotiations were still ongoing and no such agreement had been reached.

But the Haaretz daily on Tuesday night quoted an Israeli official who said that barring any last-minute surprises, a ceasefire would indeed likely be reached by Thursday morning.

Amid the growing ceasefire calls, the IDF’s Home Front Command said Wednesday that classes would not be held Thursday in the Gaza periphery and left its guidance for other parts of the country mostly unchanged.

IDF Artillery Corps fires into Gaza, near the Israeli border on May 12, 2021, following heavy rocket and missile barrage fired into Israel by terrorists in Gaza. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

As the sides entered their 10th day of fighting on Wednesday, Gaza’s Hamas-run Health Ministry updated the death toll in the Strip to 217, including more than 63 minors. It was not immediately clear if the ministry tally included all of those killed or if there were Hamas operatives not included in the count.

According to the IDF, more than 120 of those killed were members of Hamas and over 25 were members of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad as of Monday night.

The Hamas-run ministry said that over 1,400 Gazans had been injured since the start of what the IDF has named Operation Guardian of the Walls.

Twelve people in Israel, including a 5-year-old boy and a 16-year-old girl, have been killed in rocket fire, and hundreds have been injured over the past ten days.

The most recent casualties came on Tuesday afternoon when two Thai workers were killed in a packing house that took a direct hit from Hamas mortar fire. Eight others were injured, including one seriously, in the attack on a community close to the border.

Agencies contributed to this report.

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