Hamas says it targeted air force bases in barrages toward south, central Israel

IDF says no hits reported in airfields; Israeli border towns see 3-hour overnight lull between attacks, Israeli jets hit dozens of targets in Gaza as fighting enters 10th day

Rockets are launched towards Israel from Gaza City (MAHMUD HAMS / AFP)
Rockets are launched towards Israel from Gaza City (MAHMUD HAMS / AFP)

Gaza terror groups fired several rocket barrages at southern and central Israel late Tuesday and early Wednesday, with Hamas claiming it targeted Israeli Air Force bases during the strikes.

Red alert sirens went off throughout Gaza border towns, in the southern coastal cities of Ashdod and Ashkelon and in central towns as far north as Rehovot and Palmachim and in a number of air bases in between.

“The bases that the Al Qassam Brigades targeted are Hatzor, Hatzerim, Nevatim, Tel Nof, Palmachim, and Ramon,” Hamas said in a statement.

Israel Defense Forces 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.

Hamas’s publicly announced attack on airbases potentially indicated an effort by the group to deflect criticism from the US and other world leaders for wantonly targeting Israeli civilian populations in clear violation of international law. However, Hamas rockets fired during this alleged attack on Israeli airbases also struck civilian areas and the terror group launched projectiles toward towns overnight where no IAF bases are located. According to Zilberman, rockets have been fired toward IAF bases throughout the operation.

There were no reports of damage or injuries from the rocket fire that began at around 8 p.m. and continued past 2 a.m., with many of the projectiles being intercepted by the Iron Dome missile defense system. Gaza border towns had a three-hour respite from rocket fire from 2:30 to 5:30 a.m., as has been the norm for that overnight period during the past several days.

According to the IDF, over the course of Tuesday night and Wednesday morning some 50 rockets were fired toward Israel from Gaza, with 10 of them failing to clear the border and landing inside the Palestinian enclave. No injuries or damage was reported in the overnight attacks, indicating that the remaining 40 projectiles were either intercepted by the Iron Dome or struck open areas.

But on the other side of the Gaza border, IDF 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.

The news outlet said several Palestinians were killed and a larger number were injured, though the Gaza health ministry did not immediately provide an update with exact figures. According to Zilberman, the IDF believes it killed at least 10 members of the Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad terror groups in its overnight strikes in the cities of Khan Younis and Rafah in southern Gaza.

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 kidnap 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.

The IDF said it also struck a number of targets in the upscale Rimal neighborhood of Gaza City overnight Tuesday-Wednesday, an area where many top Hamas commanders live.

The Israeli military late Tuesday said its strikes targeted six rocket launching sites as well as a Hamas terror cell firing mortars at Israel from inside a school in Gaza.

The incident “proves again how the Hamas terror group purposefully places its military assets in the heart of the civilian population,” the army said.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu visits the Israel Air Force base at Hatzerim, May 18, 2021. With him are Air Force chief Amikam Norkim (left) and deputy IDF chief of staff Eyal Zamir
(Kobi Gideon / GPO)

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

A UN Security Council meeting broke up earlier Tuesday 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 subsequent 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.

The UN Security Council holds an emergency session on the violence in Israel and Gaza on May 16, 2021. (Screen capture/UN)

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.

While US President Joe Biden “expressed his support for a ceasefire” during a phone call with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Monday, a source familiar with the matter said no deadline was demanded from the Israeli premier for when IDF operations in Gaza must conclude. However, the president did warn that he would not be able to hold off much longer pressure from within his party and in the international community for an immediate ceasefire and urged Netanyahu to bring the fighting to a close.

Hamas has launched nearly 3,700 rockets at Israel since May 10, often forcing people living by Gaza into bomb shelters around the clock.

Israel’s near-relentless bombing campaign in response has sent fireballs, debris and black smoke into the sky, leaving two million Palestinians in Gaza desperate for reprieve.

The humanitarian crisis has deepened in the impoverished strip, with the UN saying 72,000 Palestinians have been displaced.

Palestinians across the West Bank and in Israeli-annexed East Jerusalem mobilized Tuesday for protests and a general strike that shuttered non-essential businesses, in support of those under bombardment in Gaza.

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 children. 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 billed 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. The two men in their 30s were not immediately named. Eight others were inured, including one seriously, in the attack on a community close to the border.

The foreign nationals were working in an area without proper fortifications, local government officials said.

The deadly attack came shortly after the Israel Defense Forces said that a soldier was lightly wounded in a mortar attack while assisting in the transfer of humanitarian aid shipments into the Gaza Strip through the Erez Crossing.

The injured 19-year-old was taken to Ashkelon’s Barzilai Medical Center for treatment for shrapnel wounds to his torso. Medics said he was fully conscious.

Additionally, a rocket landed near a vehicle, lightly injuring one person near the southern city of Beersheba, the Magen David Adom emergency said.

Israeli soldiers from Home Front Command visit families inside a bomb shelter in the southern Israeli city of Ashkelon, on May 18, 2021 (Menahem KAHANA / AFP)

Rockets were also fired at the southern cities of Ashkelon and Kiryat Gat as well as border communities throughout the day. One of the rockets slammed into a house in the Hof Ashkelon Regional Council, which was empty at the time.

Israeli aircraft carried out strikes on targets in the Gaza Strip in response, with the IDF announcing it had hit the homes of 12 Hamas commanders in Gaza over the past day, including three on Tuesday. There were no immediate reports of injuries.

Additionally, the IDF said it hit a Hamas cell in Khan Younis that was involved in firing anti-tank missiles. The military said the strike prevented anti-tank missile fire at Israel. The army also said it bombed a group of Palestinian Islamic Jihad terrorists who were preparing to fire a rocket at Israel.

Another airstrike targeted a storage site where equipment and machines for manufacturing Hamas weapons were kept, the IDF said.

Jacob Magid, Judah Ari Gross and AFP contributed to this report

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