The Israel Air Force launched a major wave of strikes at Hamas targets across the Gaza Strip on Friday evening as a cabinet minister said Israel was preparing a massive response to Hamas’s failure to heed repeated Israeli warnings to end the violence along the Gaza border.
“At this time our aircraft are carrying out widespread attacks against terror targets belonging to Hamas in the Gaza Strip,” the IDF said, adding that this came after the “serious shooting incident against our forces,” referring to sniper fire at IDF troops during a riot on the border earlier in the day. The IDF later revealed that a soldier had been killed in the incident.
The army said 15 targets were hit, including the “Hamas brigade headquarters in Zeitoun.” The army said the headquarters were completely destroyed along with “weapons and ammunition stores, training grounds, observation posts, control centers and the offices of the brigade commander.”
“The strikes are continuing,” the IDF said.
Following the strikes, rocket warning sirens wailed in communities around Gaza. At least two projectiles were intercepted by the Iron Dome system and another fell in an open field, the army said. There were no reports of projectiles falling in Israeli communities or injuries.
The large-scale evening wave of air raids was the second round of Israeli strikes on Friday. In the first, Israel hit eight sites, killing four Hamas military wing members. The evening raid targeted Hamas positions in the north, south and center of the Gaza Strip.
The fresh air raids came as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu arrived at the IDF headquarters in Tel Aviv to join Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman and the top IDF generals for a security assessment.
The IDF Spokesman Ronen Manelis did not rule out a major ground offensive, but said the IDF was not looking to enter a full-scale conflict. Nonetheless, the fire on the troops at the border was “the most serious incident” since the 2014 conflict, Manelis said, and the IDF’s Chief of Staff Gadi Eiesenkot had spent the years since then ensuring that the army was ready for “whatever response is necessary.”
Cabinet minister Tzachi Hanegbi told Hadashot news that Israel was preparing for a massive response on Gaza.
“Last week the air force carried out strikes that were described as the largest since Operation Protective Edge in 2014, we will look back at it after our response now and say it was a joke,” Hanegbi said. “The gloves are coming off.”
“The situation is that Hamas has repeatedly ignored our warnings, both private and public,” Hanegbi said.
Hadashot news analysts said that while Israel’s response would be widespread, it was unlikely to include the entrance of ground forces at this stage. At the same time, the analysts said that Gaza’s streets were deserted, and that the talk in Gaza was of a “fourth Gaza war.” Hamas, an Islamist terror group which seeks to destroy Israel, violently seized control of Gaza from the Fatah faction of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in 2007, two years after Israel had withdrawn all its civilians and military forces from the enclave. Hamas has fought three major rounds of conflict with Israel since then.
Israelis living close to the Gaza border were told to stay close to bomb shelters, and not to attend synagogues for Friday evening prayers in larger numbers than could be accommodated in protected rooms if Gaza terror groups were to launch rocket attacks.
Reports said that Israeli special forces had been stationed near border communities to prevent possible Hamas attacks through attack tunnels into Israel.
Manelis said that Hamas had spent the past three and a half months carrying out acts of terrorism during mass demonstrations at the border, firing rockets and mortar shells into Israel, and launching arson kites and balloons. Israel had tried to convey to the terror chiefs that it “means business” in demanding that the terrorism stop, but Hamas evidently had not got the message, he told Hadashot TV news.
Manelis noted that the IDF carried out a major drill this week, including simulating a ground incursion to retake control of Gaza, from where Israel withdrew in 2005. Asked whether that was a likely scenario, Manelis said it would be more sensible to wait for the completion of the current military action “over the next few hours.”
He noted that Israel had deployed Iron Dome missile defense batteries in the south and center of the country, and said the IDF was prepared “for all scenarios.”