Gallant seeks emergency measures for 80 km from Gaza border

IDF says campaign remains focused on Islamic Jihad after nearly 300 rockets fired

Military spokesman says Hamas will only be targeted if it joins rocket fire; 56 rockets, mortars land short in Strip, while more are downed by Iron Dome, David’s Sling

Emanuel (Mannie) Fabian is The Times of Israel's military correspondent

Rockets are launched from the Gaza Strip towards Israel, in Gaza, May 10, 2023. (AP Photo/Fatima Shbair)
Rockets are launched from the Gaza Strip towards Israel, in Gaza, May 10, 2023. (AP Photo/Fatima Shbair)

Gazan terrorists fired nearly 300 rockets at Israel over several hours on Wednesday afternoon, though nearly a fifth of them fell short inside the Strip, the Israeli military said, as it vowed to press an offensive against Islamic Jihad, but signaled it would seek to keep the engagement from snowballing.

With Israeli jets carrying out sorties in Gaza and salvos of rockets sending residents scrambling for shelter, military spokesman Rear Admiral Daniel Hagari dismissed reports of ceasefire talks and said the Israel Defense Forces was focusing its strikes in the Gaza Strip on the terror group and not on Hamas.

Hagari insistence that Hamas had not joined the fight, despite the group’s threats of a unified response, underlined jitters that the better-armed terror group, which rules the Strip, could shift the conflict into a higher gear, challenging the army and putting much of the country under rocket threat.

Hours after he spoke, Egyptian media reported that the sides had brokered an agreement to end the round of fighting later that night. Foreign Minister Eli Cohen said the proposal was under consideration.

However, the efforts were punctured by a massive barrage of rockets on central and southern Israel at 7:30 p.m.

Most of the rockets fired at Israel earlier targeted areas near the Gaza border, though some were fired toward Israel’s heavily populated central coastline. The rocket fire began at around 2:30 p.m. ending a 36-hour vigil in Israel, as it girded itself for the expected reprisal.

The Israel Defense Forces said that as of 4 p.m., 289 rockets had been fired at Israel, though 56 of the projectiles fell short inside Gaza.

Another 60 were shot down, including one rocket fired at Tel Aviv that marked the first successful interception of the David’s Sling medium-range air defense system.

The other 59 were downed by Iron Dome, its vaunted short-range cousin. At least three rockets landed in populated areas and the rest fell harmlessly on open land without causing damage, the IDF said.

Barzilai Medical Center in the southern city of Ashkelon said eight people were injured while running for shelter and another three were treated for nervous shock.

IDF spokesman Rear Admiral Daniel Hagari speaks to media near the Gaza border, May 10, 2023. (Emanuel Fabian/Times of Israel)

At the same time, the military carried out dozens of air strikes on what it said were Islamic Jihad rocket launchers and other infrastructure. At least 20 people have been killed since Israel launched the surprise offensive on Tuesday morning, according to the Hamas-run health ministry in Gaza.

“We are striking who is launching rockets at us,” Hagari said in response to a question by The Times of Israel. “Islamic Jihad is leading this rocket fire. If other factions join, we will respond against them too.”

Hagari said Operation Shield and Arrow’s goals were achieved with the assassination of three senior Islamic Jihad leaders early Tuesday morning, but that the IDF would continue to strike in Gaza to prevent rocket fire and deny Islamic Jihad any win.

The IDF said that its warplanes and helicopters have hit some 108 targets in the Gaza Strip belonging to Islamic Jihad — mostly rocket launch sites — as of Wednesday afternoon.

With reports of talks to end the fighting swirling, Hagari said the IDF was “not dealing with ceasefires. We are dealing with defense and offense.”

As the rocket fire intensified, Defense Minister Yoav Gallant sought government approval to extend emergency measures to communities within 80 kilometers (50 miles) of Israel’s border with the Gaza Strip, in a request to Cabinet Secretary Yossi Fuchs. The extended range would include the Tel Aviv area.

Among the safety guidelines are prohibitions on large gatherings and closing several sites to civilian entry.

The Home Front Command meanwhile extended the existing emergency orders for communities up to 40 kilometers (25 miles) from Gaza until Friday afternoon.

Israeli soldiers block a road near the border with Gaza, southern Israel, on May 10, 2023. (Flash90)

The measures keep schools and kindergartens closed and place limits on public gatherings to fewer than 10 people in open areas and 100 in protected spaces.

Beaches in the area will remain closed and workplaces are only allowed to operate if workers can reach a bomb shelter in the required amount of time.

Opposition party chairs Yair Lapid and Benny Gantz on Wednesday reiterated their wide backing for the military’s ongoing operation in Gaza.

The leaders of Yesh Atid and National Union issued a statement following their meeting at the Knesset about “the importance of backing IDF and security force operational activity.”

Opposition leader Yair Lapid (left) and National Unity party leader Benny Gantz meet in the Knesset on May 10, 2023. (Courtesy)

Earlier Wednesday, Lapid received a security briefing on the operation from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Islamic Jihad, as well as the so-called Joint Operations Room of various Palestinian terror factions in the Gaza Strip — which includes both Hamas and Islamic Jihad — had vowed a response to the deadly airstrikes early Tuesday that killed three of the group’s senior leaders in Gaza, as well as several others, including women and children.

Palestinians mourn for Mohammed Abu Taima, killed in an Israeli airstrike, in Khan Younis in the Gaza Strip, Wednesday, May 10, 2023. (AP Photo/Fatima Shbair)

The IDF said Tuesday that it had assassinated Khalil Bahtini, who commands Islamic Jihad in northern Gaza; Jihad Ghanem, a top official in the group’s military council; and Tareq Izz ed-Din, who it said directed Islamic Jihad terror activities in the West Bank from a base in Gaza.

In a subsequent strike on Tuesday afternoon, members of an Islamic Jihad cell allegedly en route to carrying out an anti-tank guided missile attack on the Gaza border were struck and killed. On Wednesday, an Islamic Jihad squad preparing rockets for launch was also struck, by an Israeli drone.

The army has dubbed the campaign Operation Shield and Arrow.

Previous strikes on Islamic Jihad leaders have been answered with barrages of rockets on Israeli civilians and intense battles with Israeli troops, some lasting several days.

Also early Wednesday, two members of a local wing of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad in the West Bank were killed in a shootout with IDF forces.

Carrie Keller-Lynn and Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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