Israel has dealt the Hamas terrorist group a “severe blow” with its airstrikes on the Gaza Strip, a diplomatic official said Thursday, shortly after a rocket fired from the Palestinian enclave reached the furthest into Israeli territory since the 2014 war.
“Hamas has suffered a severe blow,” the official said. “Israel will continue to act with force.”
The remarks came shortly after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman finished meeting with top Israel Defense Forces brass at military headquarters in Tel Aviv. The security cabinet convened there at 6:00 p.m. to discuss the situation in the south.
“The prime minister and defense minister ordered the IDF to prepare for every possibility,” the official said.
Though the frequency of rocket attacks declined by Thursday afternoon, a projectile launched from Gaza landed north of the southern city of Beersheba, some 40 kilometers (25 miles) from the Strip.
This was the first attack directed against Beersheba since the 2014 war, known in Israel as Operation Protective Edge.
The launch came some three hours after terror groups in the Strip declared the current round of violence to be over and two hours after the latest mortar shell had been fired.
“The current round in Gaza has ended. The resistance responded to the enemy’s crimes in Gaza. The continuation of calm in Gaza depends on [Israel’s] behavior,” said an official from a joint command center for a number of Palestinian terrorist groups, notably the Gaza-ruling Hamas, earlier on Thursday.
Terrorist groups in Gaza have launched over 180 rockets and mortar shells at southern Israel since Wednesday evening, mainly at communities directly adjacent to the coastal enclave.
On Tuesday, Hamas had vowed to avenge the deaths of two of its members killed by IDF tank fire after the army mistakenly thought a Hamas military exercise had been a cross-border attack. On Wednesday afternoon, the military warned that it was anticipating a revenge attack by Hamas.
Shortly after the cessation announcement was made at noon, terrorist groups in the Strip launched two fresh attacks, which triggered sirens in the area adjacent to Gaza but appeared to have hit open fields, causing neither injury nor damage.
Throughout Wednesday night and Thursday morning, Gaza terror groups fired over 180 rockets and mortar shells at southern Israel, injuring at least seven people and causing damage to homes, businesses, and infrastructure throughout the region, according to the Israel Defense Forces.
In response, the Israeli Air Force struck over 150 Hamas “terror sites” in the Strip, the army said. Palestinian officials said a pregnant woman and her infant daughter were killed in the Israeli strikes, along with one Hamas fighter, who was reportedly in a car used by a rocket-launching Hamas cell that was targeted by an IDF aircraft.
The Hamas-run health ministry named the woman as Aynas Abu Khamash, 23, and her daughter, 18-months-old, as Bayan. According to Ashraf al-Qidra, a spokesman for the ministry, they were killed in an Israeli strike on the central Gaza Strip early Thursday morning. Mohammed Abu Khamash, Aynas’s husband, was seriously injured in the strike, he said.
Lt. Col. Jonathan Conricus, a spokesman for the IDF, said he could not comment on the specific case of the Abu Khamash family, but stressed that the army targeted “only military sites” in its raids.
Arab 48, an Arab-Israeli news site, which spoke with members of the Abu Khamash family, said the family’s home is located in rural Gaza and four kilometers from the border fence between the Strip and Israel. There are a number of military sites which belong to armed groups in Gaza near the border. The report did not say if the Abu Khamash home was located adjacent to a military site.
The army warned the terror group that it will “bear the consequences for its terrorist activities against the citizens of Israel.”
So far, the military has focused on targeting Hamas infrastructure while largely avoiding casualties, apparently in an effort to prevent further escalation of violence.
However, senior Israeli officials indicated that the country was prepared for a wider confrontation with Hamas.
“Whatever is needed to protect our citizens and our soldiers will be done, no matter what the price will be in Gaza,” Housing Minister Yoav Gallant, who serves on the security cabinet, said Thursday.
“Let’s hope for peace, and let’s be ready for war,” he added.
Earlier in the morning, a senior IDF officer warned that Israel was “rapidly nearing a confrontation” with Hamas in Gaza.