Palestinian terror groups in Gaza fired massive volleys of rockets at central and southern Israel after midnight Saturday, prompting heavy retaliatory airstrikes by Israel that also targeted the home of the Hamas terror group’s leader in the coastal enclave.
The renewed bombardment, claimed by Hamas, saw a large barrage of some 55 rockets fired at Tel Aviv and numerous cities and towns in central Israel and toward northern parts of the West Bank, according to the Israel Defense Forces. Additional salvoes were launched at southern cities of Beersheba, Ashdod and Ashkelon, as well as surrounding towns.
Without releasing exact numbers, IDF Spokesperson Hidai Zilberman said the Iron Dome missile defense system performed well against the fusillade aimed at central Israel.
“We intercepted a very, very good percentage of them,” he said.
There were no reports of injuries, save for 10 people hurt while running to bomb shelters, the Magen David Adom ambulance service said. Rocket shrapnel from interceptions by the Iron Dome missile defense system reportedly struck a number of cities, including Ashdod, Gan Yavne and Ramle.
Shortly after the latest salvo, intensive Israeli strikes were reported by Palestinian media throughout the Gaza Strip.
The homes of Hamas’s leader in the Gaza Strip, Yahya Sinwar, was bombed in the raids, as was the home of his brother Muhammad, who is responsible for human resources in the terror group, the Israel Defense Forces said, releasing video footage of the strikes in the southern Gaza city of Khan Younis.
According to the military, the homes were also used by the brothers to conduct terrorist activities. The buildings did not appear to be occupied at the time of the attacks.
The IDF said it also conducted a large-scale strike on Hamas’ sprawling underground tunnel network in the Palestinian enclave, which the military refers to as “the metro,” continuing a campaign that began on Thursday night with a massive attack on such underground infrastructure in northern Gaza.
“As part of a Stage 2 of additional attacks on Hamas’s ‘metro,’ some 30 targets were attacked by fighter jets using roughly 100 precision-guided weapons,” the IDF said.
Zilberman said the strikes seemed to be raising concern among Hamas members that the tunnel network is no longer an asset.
“No one wants to ride the ‘metro,'” Zilberman said.
According to photos circulated by residents and journalists, the airstrikes on Hamas’s tunnel system created a large crater that blocked one of the main roads leading to Shifa, the largest hospital in the Strip.
The military said it also targeted a number of weapons caches and rocket launching sites, as well as the homes and offices of several top terrorist leaders.
According to the Hamas-run Health Ministry, two Palestinians were killed and 25 were wounded in the latest round of Israeli air raids, which continued into the predawn hours.
Palestinian terrorists in Gaza have fired over 2,300 rockets at Israel since the outbreak of fighting on Monday, according to the Israel Defense Forces. Ten Israelis, including a young child, have been killed in the rocket fire, and hundreds have been injured.
The most recent casualty was on Saturday afternoon when a man was killed by a projectile that struck the Tel Aviv suburb of Ramat Gan. According to Channel 12 news, the man did not have a protected area in his home and was unable to reach a bomb shelter in time. The outlet said shrapnel from the rocket pierced the door to the man’s home.
Images from the scene showed widespread destruction as the projectile slammed into the residential area.
Several other people suffered light injuries as two rockets hit the city during barrages which saw dozens of projectiles fired at high-density urban areas in the center of the country.
A rocket hit an open area in the central city of Rishon Lezion, as well as in the Arab town of Taibe, northeast of Tel Aviv. There were no reports of casualties in those locations.
Footage later emerged of people fleeing the beach in Tel Aviv as sirens wailed across the city, warning of the incoming fire.
— شبكة قدس الإخبارية (@qudsn) May 15, 2021
Some two hours after the barrages, the Israel Defense Forces warned the occupants of the Al Jala tower in Gaza used by international news organizations that it was set to be destroyed. After felling the structure, the IDF said the high-rise building housed “military assets” used by the military intelligence wing of the Strip’s Hamas rulers.
The IDF accused the terror group of “hiding behind” the offices of the press outlets in the Al Jalaa tower and “using them as human shields.”
“The Hamas terror group intentionally locates its military assets in the hearts of civil populations in the Gaza Strip,” the IDF said, noting it warned those in the building before the strike and says it gave them sufficient time to clear out.
This strike, on a building used by several international media outlets, prompted significant criticism and concern even by Israeli allies, including US President Joe Biden and US Senator Bob Menendez, one of Jerusalem’s staunchest advocates in the Democrat Party.
Zilberman rebuffed this criticism, saying the attack was justified as the building housed Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad offices and as a deterrent against future attempts by terror group to hide their operations behind news outlets.
“If Hamas and the Islamic Jihad think that the media are their shield, then in the next operation in Gaza, we’ll find that media outlet’s offices are going to be popping up as covers for terrorist assets,” he said.
In response to the flattening of the tower, Abu Obeida, the spokesman of Hamas’s military wing, threatened to target Tel Aviv and the center of the country in revenge, later making good on the threat.
Hamas said the rocket fire toward the center of the country throughout Saturday was in response to the killing of a Palestinian family of 10 in Gaza overnight, eight of whom were reported to have been children.
The Israeli military said “senior Hamas figures” were meeting in the building at the time, and it was “not clear” how many of them were among the dead.
The IDF said the details of the strike were under review. The military spokesman said that the IDF took care to avoid civilian casualties as much as possible, including occupants of buildings due to be attacked of the impending strike, but that this was not always possible as in some case an element of surprise was needed, particularly in attacks on senior Hamas leaders.
In a televised statement on Saturday night, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu defended Israel’s military operation in Gaza and said the fighting would continue for several more days. He warned terror leaders: “You can’t hide, not above land or below it. No one is immune.”
In addition to the rocket fire at the center of the country, several heavy waves of projectiles targeted Ashkelon, Ashdod, Beersheba and the communities surrounding the Gaza Strip throughout the course of Saturday. There were no reports of injuries in those attacks, although there was damage.
In Gaza, the toll from the fighting climbed to 139 on Saturday, including dozens of children, with over 1,000 wounded, according to the Hamas-run health ministry. The Hamas and Islamic Jihad terror groups have confirmed 20 deaths in their ranks, though Israel says that number is much higher and that dozens of those killed were terrorists. In addition, the IDF says some deaths were caused by errant rockets fired at Israel which fell short of their targets and landed in the Strip.
Agencies contributed to this report.