The Security Cabinet is to convene for an emergency meeting Sunday afternoon to deal with the escalating violence in Gaza, as Palestinians fired dozens of rockets into Israel and the IDF attacked more than 40 targets in the Strip on Saturday in the most extensive daytime assault since 2014’s Operation Protective Edge.
Israeli ministers were updated on the developments by phone overnight Friday-Saturday, as residents of Israeli communities near Gaza spent the night in bomb shelters.
Israel’s political leadership was considering a range of possibilities for trying to halt the rocket fire, including targeted assassinations of Hamas terror chiefs, the use of ground forces, and a ceasefire mediated by Egypt and/or others, but no decision had been made as of Saturday late afternoon, Hadashot TV news reported.
IDF Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot met with senior commanders in the south to review the situation.
Egyptian sources said Cairo was working to prevent a further escalation and towards mediating a ceasefire between Israel and Palestinian terror groups, the Walla news site reported.
Also Saturday, Nikolai Mladinov, the United Nations Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, reportedly held talks with several Israeli and Egyptian officials in an attempt to restore calm to the region.
According to unconfirmed reports in Gaza, by late afternoon Hamas and Islamic Jihad officials had ordered their operatives to halt all rocket fire. Nevertheless, just minutes after those reports circulated, a projectile fired in the direction of Kibbutz Alumim near Nahal Oz was intercepted by the Iron Dome missile defense system.
Sirens were also heard in the Eshkol region in southern Israel. It was not clear whether any projectiles had landed there as the sirens blared. No injuries or damage were reported on the Israeli side.
After midnight Friday-Saturday, the Israel Defense Forces hit an attack tunnel and Hamas training bases in Gaza in response to the moderate wounding of an IDF officer by a hand-grenade thrown during a border riot on Friday.
During the night, Palestinians fired more than 30 projectiles into Israel and kept up the attacks on Saturday, firing a further 60 rockets and mortar shells. Residents of Israeli border communities spent the night in bomb shelters and were cautioned to remain close to the shelters during the day.
The IDF said Iron Dome intercepted 20 projectiles in total that were headed for residential areas.
The primary target of the IAF strikes Saturday was the Hamas battalion headquarters in Beit Lahia, in the north of the Strip, the army said.
“The focus of the attack is a wide-scale strike of the Hamas Battalion HQ in Beit Lahia, which includes urban warfare training facilities, weapon storage warehouse, training compounds, command centers, offices, and more,” the IDF said in a statement.
“In addition, a weapons manufacturing site and storage facilities housing various types of weapons, including Hamas’ naval capabilities, were struck,” it said.
The air force also attacked a Palestinian terrorist cell launching mortar shells.
The IDF spokesman said the aim of the operation was to “restore a sense of security” and that the military would “respond as necessary” to a wide range of scenarios.
The Hamas-run health ministry said it had not received any reports of injuries in the Israeli strikes.
Local residents, who had earlier been told they could return to their usual routines after a barrage overnight Friday, were instructed to remain close to bomb shelters, and large gatherings of people were to be canceled.
Hamas on Saturday said the barrage of rockets and mortar shells into Israeli territory overnight was fired by the “resistance” to “stop Israeli escalation.”
The spokesman for the terrorist group, Fawzi Barhoum, also said the projectiles were an “immediate response” that was meant to “deliver the message” to Israel.
The army said it held Hamas responsible for all violence emanating from Gaza, which the terror group has ruled since 2007.