Army strikes Islamic Jihad cross-border tunnel into Israel

Netanyahu said to tell IDF to ‘deal a hard blow’ to Gaza terror groups

Senior official says expectation is of ‘at least two to three days of fighting’; IDF says Hamas and Islamic Jihad are working together

Illustrative: Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu holds consultations with the IDF's Chief of Staff, the directors of the ISA & NSC and security officials at the Kiriya in Tel Aviv, May 4, 2019 (Courtesy)
Illustrative: Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu holds consultations with the IDF's Chief of Staff, the directors of the ISA & NSC and security officials at the Kiriya in Tel Aviv, May 4, 2019 (Courtesy)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Saturday instructed the army “to deal a hard blow” to terror groups in the Gaza Strip in response to rocket fire from the Palestinian territory, according to a defense official quoted by Hebrew-language media.

The Israel Defense Forces on Saturday launched a series of strikes on the Gaza Strip from both land and air, as around 200 rockets were fired toward Israel from the Palestinian enclave. The army said dozens of the projectiles were intercepted by the Iron Dome missile defense system.

A senior Israeli official told Channel 13 news that there is growing understanding there will not be an immediate return to calm on the southern border, with an expectation of “at least two to three days of fighting.”

The comments came after Netanyahu, who is also defense minister, met with top security officials for talks on the flare-up in the south.

Objects are scattered in a house that was hit by a rocket fired from the Gaza Strip in the southern Israeli village of Netiv Ha’asara, on May 4, 2019. (Jack Guez/AFP)

The security cabinet will meet Sunday to discuss the latest violence in Gaza, the Prime Minister’s Office said earlier on Saturday.

Two people were injured Saturday, one seriously — an 80-year-old woman in Kiryat Gat — and one moderately, as the army said around 200 rockets were fired at Israel from Gaza.

The army said fighter jets and tanks struck 70 “terror targets” in the Strip belonging to the Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad terror groups. These included a tunnel dug by Islamic Jihad that crosses the border into Israel.

IDF says it destroyed an attack tunnel crossing under the border from Gaza to Israel, May 4 2019 (IDF Spokesperson’s Unit)

The army has warned it will expand strikes in the Gaza Strip if rocket fire from the Palestinian enclave continues.

IDF spokesman Ronen Manelis said Hamas, the terror group that rules Gaza, is working in cooperation with Islamic Jihad and that the IDF is striking targets linked to both terror organizations

He added that the army believes five to six members of the group have been killed since Friday when the IDF struck a Hamas post on the border in response to a sniper attack on Israeli troops.

The army said it targeted several Hamas compounds in Gaza City used for training and for weapons production. It said one of the sites was used by the organization’s naval force. It also struck several Islamic Jihad compounds throughout the Strip, and a number of rocket launchers and outposts near the border.

The strikes came after IDF Chief of Staff Aviv Kohavi held talks with Shin Bet chief Nadav Argaman, Southern Command chief Herzi Halevi and other top brass.

Israel also announced the closure of the Erez and Kerem Shalom crossings between Gaza and Israel, as well as the fishing zone off the coast of the Palestinian enclave.

Fishing boats return to the port in Gaza City on May 4, 2019, after Israel closed the fishing zone off the Palestinian enclave in response to rocket fire. (Mahmud Hams/AFP)

Terror groups in the Gaza Strip have warned they will increase attacks on Israel if the IDF continues to carry out strikes in response to rocket fire from the coastal enclave.

“We warn the enemy that our response will be even more severe and widespread in the event that it expands its aggression. We will remain the shield of our people and our land,” the so-called joint operations room said in a statement.

In light of the ongoing attacks, the IDF’s Home Front Command issued instructions for residents in affected areas to remain near protected spaces. It also limited public gatherings to 300 people in enclosed spaces only and halted agricultural work. Many municipalities opened public shelters. Beaches and national parks in the south were closed, and sporting events canceled.

The instructions applied to communities in the border area near Gaza, the central Negev, Lachish region and southern Shfela plain.

The rocket attacks came a day after two soldiers were shot and injured while on patrol near the border in southern Gaza. One soldier was moderately wounded in the attack and a female soldier was lightly hurt, the IDF said.

In response to the shooting, an IDF aircraft attacked a nearby Hamas post, the army said. The Hamas-run Gaza health ministry said two people were killed in the strike and two others were wounded.

Smoke rises from an explosion caused by an Israeli airstrike in Gaza City, Saturday, May 4, 2019 (AP Photo/Hatem Moussa)

On Thursday, a Hamas delegation led by the group’s Gaza chief Yahya Sinwar traveled to Cairo for talks with Egyptian officials on a truce with Israel, Hamas officials said.

That agreement appeared under stress in recent days, with Palestinians launching arson balloons and rockets into Israel and Israeli warplanes striking Hamas targets.

Hamas has said the incendiary balloons were a message to Israel not to hold up the transfer of millions of dollars in Qatari aid funds to the cash-strapped Hamas government in Gaza.

Israel and Egypt have maintained a crippling blockade on Gaza since Hamas, which seeks to destroy Israel, seized control of the territory in 2007. Jerusalem says it is necessary to prevent terror groups from rearming and becoming an even greater menace.

The sides are bitter enemies and have fought three wars and engaged in numerous smaller flare-ups of violence.

Tensions have been rising in recent days amid allegations from Hamas that Israel has been delaying implementation of last month’s ceasefire understandings.

Agencies contributed to this report.

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