Netanyahu orders army to intensify Gaza operation

Terrorists fire dozens of missiles from the Strip, reaching northern Israel; officials warn of a long military campaign

Israeli soldiers on patrol in Netiv Ha'asara on the second day of Operation Protective Edge, on July 9, 2014. (photo credit: Edi Israel/Flash90)
Israeli soldiers on patrol in Netiv Ha'asara on the second day of Operation Protective Edge, on July 9, 2014. (photo credit: Edi Israel/Flash90)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Wednesday instructed the Israel Defense Forces to “intensify even further” the military operation against Hamas and other terrorist organizations in Gaza. “The IDF is prepared for any option,” he said, stopping short of announcing a ground invasion into the strip.

“Hamas will pay a heavy price for firing at Israeli citizens. The security of Israel’s citizens is first and foremost. Our army is strong, the home front firm and our nation united. This combination is our response to the terrorist organizations that seek to hurt us,” the prime minister said in Beersheba, where he held security deliberations with Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon, IDF Chief of Staff Benny Gantz and Sami Turgeman, the IDF’s southern command chief.

“We are all united in the mission to hit the terrorists and restore calm,” Netanyahu said. “The operation will expand and continue until the rocket fire on our cities stops and quiet returns.”

The prime minister urged the public to continue following the Home Front Command’s instructions; “they save lives,” he said.

The instructions to the army came as Hamas shot rockets that reached deeper into Israel than ever before, amid ongoing Israeli airstrikes in the Gaza Strip.

A government official specified that the army would attack Hamas operatives, infrastructure and tunnels more forcefully than on Tuesday, noting that Netanyahu wanted to prepare the Israeli people for what could be a long campaign.

“It’s not ‘bang, and we’re done,’” the official added.

Over 40 rockets were launched at Israeli cities from Gaza on Wednesday, with at least eight intercepted by the Iron Dome defense system.

Most attacks targeted the Gaza periphery, but at least one rocket reached near the city of Zichron Yaakov — 35 kilometers (20 miles) south of Haifa, about 120 km (75 miles) north of the Gaza Strip — lightly injuring one person.

A volley of rockets was also shot at Tel Aviv Wednesday morning, with at least two being shot down by Iron Dome

On Tuesday Gaza terrorists launched over 100 rockets at Israeli cities reaching as far as Hadera north of Tel Aviv and the capital Jerusalem, where a number of events were postponed due to worries of more rocket fire..

A graphic showing details of rocket fire from Gaza into Israel (AP)
A graphic showing details of rocket fire from Gaza into Israel (AP)

The unprecedented strikes deep into Israeli territory prompted Itamar Shimoni, mayor of the city of Ashkelon near the Gaza border, to tell Ynet that “the rules [of the game] have changed, an entire country is under fire.”

Meanwhile, the IDF has shown no signs of letting up in Gaza, hitting over 160 targets overnight Tuesday and into Wednesday, including the home of senior Islamic Jihad operative Hafiz Hamad, according to Palestinian news outlet Ma’an.

The strike reportedly killed Hamad as well five family members. Palestinian sources said several more people were killed in Israeli strikes Wednesday morning, pushing the death toll since the beginning of Operation Protective Edge over 30.

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas said late Tuesday that he had spoken with Egyptian president Abdel-Fattah al-Sissi, who had agreed to make efforts to broker a ceasefire. Cairo has been instrumental in mediating between Israel and Hamas in the past.

However, Israeli officials have said they are not seeking a ceasefire and Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon said Wednesday that the IDF planned to continue expanding the operation.

“The campaign against Hamas will expand in the coming days, and the prices the organization will pay will be very heavy,” he said following a security assessment with the Shin Bet and IDF.

“We are continuing with attacks that are extracting a heavy price from Hamas,” he added. “We are destroying weapons, terror infrastructure, command and control systems, Hamas institutions, administration buildings, and terrorists’ homes, and are killing terrorists in various command positions.”

The international community has so far largely refrained from taking sides in the current round of fighting. The European Union’s foreign affairs office issuing a condemnation of rocket fire targeting Israeli citizens and the IDF’s retaliation against the Gaza Strip, while calling on both sides to show restraint. On Tuesday, the US condemned rocket fire against Israeli civilians and saddled Hamas with the blame for suffering on both sides.

However, Israel’s eastern neighbor Jordan condemned the operation Wednesday. Government spokesman Mohammad Momani said in a statement that his country “condemns the military aggression launched by Israel in the Gaza Strip,” and demands an “immediate stop” to the campaign. Momani also warned against “the consequences of this barbaric aggression.”

On Israel’s home front, Hatnua MK and retired general Amram Mitzna told Ynet that “in Gaza, they are suffering more than those sitting in shelters in Tel Aviv.”

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