Palestinian terrorists in the Gaza Strip renewed rocket fire into Israel at dawn Thursday after a three-hour lull in attacks overnight. Meanwhile, the Israel Defense Forces continued to attack what it said were key Hamas targets, destroying the terror group’s treasuries and hitting more top leaders.
Rocket sirens sounded in areas around the Gaza Strip on Thursday morning, with no immediate reports of injuries or damage. The predawn attacks were relatively modest compared to the massive barrages that were fired into Israel during the two preceding nights.
Yet, in light of the ongoing rocket fire toward central Israel, Ben Gurion Airport was closed to incoming commercial flights on Thursday morning, with planes being diverted instead to Ramon Airport north of Eilat. Private planes and freight aircraft were still permitted to land at Ben Gurion, and departures were allowed to continue as normal, an Israel Airports Authority said.
Some 150 rockets and mortar shells were fired from the Gaza Strip at Israel from 8 p.m. Wednesday to 6 a.m. Thursday, 24 of which landed inside the Palestinian enclave, according to an IDF tally. In total, Palestinian terrorists have fired nearly 1,500 projectiles toward Israel since the outbreak of fighting on Monday evening, with roughly a fifth landing inside Gaza, the IDF said.
Dozens to hundreds of the projectiles heading toward Israel have been intercepted by Iron Dome missile defense batteries, according to the military, which refuses to give precise statistics on the matter as they could be used by terror groups to find ways to outmaneuver the system. The IDF on Thursday said the air defense system had a roughly 90 percent interception rate of rockets and mortar shells heading toward populated areas.
In the most serious rocket attack overnight, two people were moderately injured by shrapnel and six others were treated for smoke inhalation after a Hamas rocket from Gaza struck in between homes in Petah Tikva shortly after midnight, sparking a fire. The buildings near the fire sustained moderate damage.
On Wednesday night and Thursday morning, the Israeli military expanded its targets in the Gaza Strip to include institutions that Hamas uses to rule the Palestinian enclave, notably its treasury and banks, IDF Spokesperson Hidai Zilberman said.
In addition, the Israeli Air Force bombed Hamas’s internal security headquarters, which was used in counterintelligence operations, destroyed the home of Iyad Tayeb, a battalion commander in Hamas’s military wing, and killed a squad of Hamas’s naval forces, Zilberman said.
In one case in the predawn hours of Thursday morning, the IDF destroyed a Hamas bunker that had been built under a school “and in proximity to other civilian buildings.” Israel accuses the terror group of deliberately positioning military targets in densely populated areas to use the civilians nearby as human shields.
According to Zilberman, the IDF has destroyed most of Hamas’s domestic rocket production capabilities, bombing a large number of weapons production and storage facilities. However, he said that the military will struggle to continue striking weapons caches, which are spread throughout the Strip. “If there were any warehouses with 100 rockets, they were destroyed in the first day of the operation,” Zilberman said.
In total, the IDF on Thursday said it had bombed upwards of 600 targets in the Strip, over 100 of them over the previous 24 hours.
The IDF’s campaign in Gaza, officially dubbed Operation Guardian of the Walls, has so far been conducted primarily by airstrikes, as well as artillery shellings from the ground and the sea, but the military said it was preparing for the possibility of a ground incursion.
Zilberman said plans for a ground invasion would be presented for approval by the IDF General Staff on Thursday, at which point they would be given to Israel’s political leadership for consideration.
The IDF in recent days has deployed additional ground troops — from the Paratroopers Brigade, Golani Infantry Brigade and 7th Armored Brigade — to the Gaza border, sending with them tanks and armored personnel carriers, which could be seen being transported by trucks on highways throughout southern Israel.
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Gaza’s Hamas-run Health Ministry said the death toll rose to 72 Palestinians, including 16 children. The IDF said dozens of those killed were members of terrorist groups, some of whom were actively preparing to launch attacks on Israel when they were hit.
The Palestinian Islamic Jihad confirmed the deaths of seven of its members, while Hamas acknowledged that a top commander and several other members were killed. Israel and a Palestinian human rights group, Defense for Children, have said that several of the civilians were killed by Hamas rockets falling short inside Gaza, not by Israeli attacks.
The Israeli military also claims the number of terrorists killed so far is much higher than Hamas has acknowledged.