IDF readies for heavier Gaza conflict as massive missile barrage persists
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Some 300 rockets, mortar shells strike southern Israel

IDF readies for heavier Gaza conflict as massive missile barrage persists

Military moves more troops to border as policymakers said to give go-ahead for intensified strikes against Hamas, which vows to target a million Israelis

Judah Ari Gross is The Times of Israel's military correspondent.

A convoy of Israeli tanks on the highway near the southern Israeli town of Sderot, on November 12, 2018. (Menahem KAHANA / AFP)
A convoy of Israeli tanks on the highway near the southern Israeli town of Sderot, on November 12, 2018. (Menahem KAHANA / AFP)

The Israeli military deployed additional troops and tanks to the Gaza Strip border on Monday following the largest barrage of rockets and mortar shells fired at Israel from the coastal enclave in a single day.

The army was reportedly given a green light from policymakers to pummel terror groups in the Strip if they continued with the barrages, as the terror organizations in the Strip vowed to do.

“The resistance factions’ joint command center is holding a serious conversation about expanding its range of fire. Ashkelon is just the beginning. Approximately one million Zionists will be within the range of our missiles if the Zionist enemy’s decision is to continue its aggression,” said Abu Obeida, a spokesperson for Hamas’s military wing.

According to the Israel Defense Forces, over 300 rockets and mortar shells were fired at southern Israel from the Gaza Strip as of 10 p.m. Monday — a number that was expected to rise as barrages continued throughout the night.

The attacks began shortly after 4:30 p.m., when terrorists fired a Kornet anti-tank guided missile at an Israeli bus near the border, seriously injuring an IDF soldier who was on board at the time. Dozens of other soldiers had previously been on the bus, parked near the Black Arrow memorial near Kibbutz Kfar Azza, and exited moments before the missile struck.

The IDF said dozens of incoming projectiles from Gaza were shot down by the Iron Dome air defense system. Most of the rest landed in open fields outside Israeli communities, but a number struck homes and buildings in cities and towns across the south.

A home and an apartment building were hit in the city of Ashkelon. In the rocket attack on the apartment building, shortly after midnight Monday, seven people were injured, including a woman in her 60s who was found unconscious and seriously wounded.

She was found unresponsive in one of the apartments, suffering from injuries throughout her body caused by shrapnel from the rocket, medics said.

A 40-year-old man was also moderately wounded by shrapnel; two women in their 20s were lightly injured by glass shards; and two men in their 40s and a women in her 90s were treated for smoke inhalation after a fire broke out at the scene, according to the Magen David Adom ambulance service.

Strikes on buildings in Netivot and Sderot caused significant damage and minor injuries to the occupants, and sparked fires in the surrounding area.

In Netivot, Hadashot TV news showed how a single piece of shrapnel from a rocket pierced the outer wall of one home, flew across the bedroom, clearing a baby bed, passed through that wall into the kitchen, through the fridge, and finally smashed into the oven. The family had evacuated the home when rocket alarms sounded and were unhurt.

At least 22 other Israelis were injured in attacks from the Gaza Strip, either by shrapnel caused by rockets and mortar shells or in accidents while running to bomb shelters for cover, medical officials said.

Dozens of people also received treatment after they suffered panic attacks brought on by the rocket and mortar strikes.

In response to the attacks, the Israeli military launched a series of strikes against dozens of targets inside the Gaza Strip, including a number of multi-story buildings and houses belonging to senior Hamas officials deep inside populated areas in the Strip — a move the IDF typically foregoes in favor of attacks on facilities on the outskirts of cities in order to avoid potential collateral damage.

The army also said it targeted three attack tunnels operated by Hamas and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad, the two largest terror groups in the Strip.

Three Palestinians — each identified by terror groups as a member — were killed in the army’s initial strikes and three others were reportedly injured, but no casualties were reported in the IDF’s latest round of strikes inside Gazan cities.

In one case, the IDF bombed the headquarters of the Hamas-affiliated Al-Aqsa television station in Gaza City in the central Gaza Strip, which it said was “used by [Hamas] for military activities, including sending messages to terrorist operatives in the West Bank, calls for terror attacks and instructions on how to commit them.”

A former hotel in Gaza City used by Hamas as an internal security office was also hit in an Israeli strike, AFP journalists reported.

“This is an attack on a central government property for Hamas, which was conducted as part of additional attacks that the IDF carried out and as a response to the terror attack that the Hamas terror group is leading against Israeli citizens,” the army said.

The military also said the outlet broadcasts “incitement against the State of Israel and its citizens.”

“The IDF is determined to fulfill its mission of defending Israeli citizens, and is prepared and ready for a variety of scenarios, as necessary,” the army says.

On Monday evening, large numbers of tanks and other military vehicles were seen being moved down to the Gaza border on the backs of large trucks. Earlier in the day, before the barrages began, the army also ordered extra infantry battalions to the region.

Additional Iron Dome air defense batteries were also deployed in southern Israel on Monday morning.

The Israeli military threatened Hamas in the evening in response to the hours-long barrage, saying the terror group would “feel the power of the IDF’s response in the coming hours.”

“The Hamas terror group is responsible for everything that occurs in and emanates from the Gaza Strip, and it will bear the consequences of the terrorist activities conducted against Israeli citizens,” the military said in a statement.

“In addition, a number of rocket-launching cells were attacked,” the IDF said in a statement. “The IDF is continuing at this time to attack terror cites throughout the Strip.”

The military released footage of some of its attacks, which appeared to show strikes on Palestinian rocket-launching teams, military facilities and other sites in the coastal enclave.

The Hamas-run Gaza health ministry identified the three Palestinians killed by Israeli strikes as Muhammed al-Tatri, 27, Muhammed Oudeh, 22, and Hamad al-Nahal, 23. The military wing of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine terror group claimed al-Tatri and Oudeh as its members. The Palestinian Islamic Jihad said al-Nahal was one of its fighters.

The barrages from Gaza came less than a day after an IDF special operations officer was killed in an operation gone awry that also killed seven Palestinian gunmen in the Strip. Following Sunday night’s incident, the Gaza-ruling terror group Hamas said “the blood of our righteous martyrs will not be wasted.”

The renewed clashes dashed hopes that Israel and Hamas would uphold a precarious ceasefire agreement recently brokered by Egypt and the United Nations and supported by Qatar.

Egyptian and UN officials scrambled on Monday evening to bring the two sides back to the negotiating table.

In light of the barrage from the Gaza Strip, the Israeli military ordered residents of communities near the Gaza Strip to remain inside bomb shelters until further notice. That included residents of the towns of Netivot and Ofakim, which are not typically as affected by Gaza rockets as communities closer to the border.

Residents of the cities of Beersheba, Ashkelon and Ashdod were told to stay within close proximity of bomb shelters and protected spaces.

The military also preemptively canceled school for Tuesday in the Gaza border region and in the central Negev and Lachish regions, including in Israel’s fourth largest city Beersheba.

In addition, businesses were ordered closed in the Gaza region, along with government offices, unless they are considered essential, the army said. No large gatherings were allowed in southern Israel on Monday night and Tuesday, it said.

In the central Negev and Lachish regions, which are farther from the Strip, businesses are only ordered shut if they do not have a bomb shelter nearby. Government services there were also scaled back.

In these regions, located dozens of kilometers from Gaza, only groups smaller than 300 would be allowed to gather on Tuesday, the army said.

Agencies contributed to this report.

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