IAF strikes 10 targets in Gaza overnight

Rocket fire batters southern Israeli towns; Gaza residents report loud explosions; IDF troops continue to flow to border

Illustrative: A ball of fire is seen after an Israel airstrike on Rafah, southern Gaza, on July 1, 2014. (photo credit: AFP/Said Khatib)
Illustrative: A ball of fire is seen after an Israel airstrike on Rafah, southern Gaza, on July 1, 2014. (photo credit: AFP/Said Khatib)

Israel Air Force jets struck 10 “terror sites” in the central and southern Gaza Strip overnight Saturday-Sunday, the IDF said early Sunday.

The attacks followed escalated rocket barrages on Israeli communities in recent days, including a salvo aimed at Beersheba on Saturday, one rocket of which was intercepted by the Iron Dome missile defense system.

According to media reports, the Israeli air force targets included weapons caches east of Rafah, three targets in Rafah and at least one in Khan Younis, and several sites throughout the strip used by Hamas.

Palestinian sources reported loud explosions from the strikes.

“Following constant rocket fire at Israeli communities in the south, IAF aircraft targeted 10 terror sites in the central and southern Gaza strip, including concealed rocket launchers and a weapon manufacturing facility,” the IDF’s early Sunday statement read.

Shortly before the airstrikes, two mortar shells fell near Nahal Oz, a kibbutz close to the Gaza border.

Late Saturday, the IDF reportedly failed in an attempted assassination of a high-level “terror target” in the strip. According to the Hebrew-language news site Walla, Israeli jets fired at an individual in the southern part of the strip who was allegedly responsible for the spike in rocket and mortar attacks on Israel’s southern towns in recent days. The individual was wounded, but not killed.

On Saturday evening, Hamas upped its rhetoric, threatening to reach “all” of Israel’s cities with its rockets.

A digital image uploaded to the terror group’s Arabic language website Saturday night showed a Grad rocket launcher engulfed in flames with a Hebrew caption reading, “All cities are close to Gaza.”

Three rockets were fired at Beersheba on Saturday evening, setting off warning sirens in the largest town in southern Israel. One was intercepted by Iron Dome, while two fell in open fields. There were no reports of casualties.

Beersheba, which was last targeted from Gaza in 2012, has a population of 200,000.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu held urgent consultations Saturday evening with Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon, Public Security Minister Yitzhak Aharonovitch, and the heads of the security services. He said Israel was hitting Hamas targets in response to the rocket fire, and would use additional force if necessary.

After ordering increased Israeli forces to the Gaza border on Thursday, Netanyahu had warned: “One possibility is that the fire will stop and the quiet continues. The other is that the fire continues and then the increased forces that are in the south will act forcefully. The safety of our citizens is first and foremost.”

The IDF has been slowly building up its forces on the Gaza border, even as Israeli leaders have said they preferred calm to escalation. The build-up continued over the weekend, according to reports.

Hamas has hundreds of rockets capable of reaching Tel Aviv and Beersheba, former IDF Military Intelligence chief Amos Yadlin said Saturday, adding that the fact that the Islamist group was not utilizing that capacity underlined Israel’s ongoing deterrent capability.

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