Senior Israeli officials on Sunday said the Hamas terror group has asked for a ceasefire to end a weekend of sharply spiraling violence during which Palestinians fired over 600 rockets and mortars at southern Israel, prompting retaliatory airstrikes from Israel against hundreds of targets in Gaza, according to Israeli television reports.
Three Israelis were killed Sunday by the attacks from Gaza. Over a dozen Palestinians were reportedly killed in Israeli raids, most of them terror group members, including a senior commander in Hamas.
According to media reports, senior Israeli officials said Hamas sent a message via Egyptian mediators that it was seeking to end the heavy fighting. The Israeli sources were not identified in the reports and Hamas did not confirm it was seeking a cessation of hostilities.
The Israel Defense Forces said the vast majority of the projectiles fired from Gaza were launched by Hamas, which rules Gaza, and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad, the second most powerful terror group in the Strip. A smaller number of rockets were fired by other groups in Gaza.
Earlier in the day, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said that he ordered the military to continue “massive strikes” against Hamas, which Israel holds responsible for all attacks coming from Gaza.
The PIJ terror group on Sunday said that it was preparing to intensify its attacks and threatened the increased violence could lead to an all-out war between Israel and the Gaza Strip.
“The resistance is about to go to a higher level in facing the aggression; a level that could lead to a war,” PIJ spokesperson Mosab Al Braim told the Hamas-affiliated al-Risalah newspaper.
Braim warned that the escalation will “hurt the enemy just like it is hurting our people.”
In the rocket attacks on southern Israel on Sunday, an Israeli man was fatally wounded when an anti-tank guided missile slammed into his car as he was driving along the Route 34 highway near the community of Kibbutz Erez, just north of the Gaza border. Hamas claimed responsibility for that attack.
Another Israeli man — Moshe Agadi, 58 — was killed early Sunday when a rocket hit his home in the southern city of Ashkelon, and another 22-year-old Israeli man died of injuries after a rocket blasted into a factory in the city.
From Saturday, some 600 rockets and mortar shells were fired from Gaza at Israel, with about two-thirds of the projectiles striking empty fields, according to the IDF. Over 150 projectiles that were heading toward populated areas were intercepted by the Iron Dome missile defense system, the army said. Some of longer-range rockets were also fired toward central Israel.
Israel responded by hitting over 260 Gaza targets including those of Hamas, PIJ, and other terror groups. As of Sunday afternoon, at least 14 Palestinians — most of them members of terror groups — were killed in Israeli airstrikes, according to the Hamas-run Gaza health ministry. In addition, at least 80 people were said to have been injured to varying degrees.
One of the Israeli strikes targeted the car of Hamed Hamdan al-Khodari, who was said to be a Hamas field commander connected to the terror group’s leader Yahya Sinwar.
According to the IDF, al-Khodari owned a number of money exchanges in the Gaza Strip and used them to bring large amounts of Iranian cash into the coastal enclave for Hamas, Palestinian Islamic Jihad, and other terror groups.
It was hours after the strike on al-Khodari that Hamas indicated it wanted a ceasefire, the senior Israeli sources claimed. The army also targeted dozens of sites connected to terrorist organizations throughout the Strip, including the homes of many terrorist leaders that the military said were used as weapons caches.
In light of the ongoing violence, the Israeli military on Sunday sent an additional tank brigade to the Gaza border and prepared for fighting in the coming days.
The PIJ has said it will disrupt the upcoming Eurovision Song Contest, due to take place in Tel Aviv May 14-18, and released a video threatening the Dimona nuclear facility, Ben Gurion Airport and other sensitive sites in Israel.
The exchange of fire followed several weeks of relative calm between Israel and Gaza amid an unofficial armistice, which appeared to be breaking down as terrorists in the Strip stepped up their violent activities along the border in the days preceding the outbreak of fighting. Gaza terror groups said their actions were retaliation for Israel not abiding by the ceasefire agreement by halting the transfer of Qatari money into Gaza — a charge Jerusalem denied, blaming the delay on Qatar and the United Nations.
Efforts by the United Nations and Egypt to broker a ceasefire between Israel and terror groups in the Strip yielded no concrete results as of Sunday afternoon, as neither side appeared interested in returning to the conditions laid out before the outbreak of violence.
On Sunday afternoon, Israel’s security cabinet held a meeting about the fighting in Gaza and later instructed the military to intensify its attacks in the Strip.
Judah Ari Gross contributed to this report.