Residents in southern Israel spent the night in bomb shelters as rocket fire from the Gaza Strip continued to target Israeli communities near the Palestinian enclave overnight Friday-Saturday.
Rocket sirens were heard intermittently across southern Israeli cities and towns into the wee hours, as the Israeli military continued to carry out airstrikes in the Strip targeting Palestinian Islamic Jihad weapons sites and launching positions.
Sirens were heard in Sderot, Kissufim, Nir Am, Nahal Oz, Kfar Aza, Nitzamin, and Kerem Shalom, all near the Palestinian enclave.
The Israel Defense Forces said air force jets struck a number of weapons-making sites run by terror group Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ), including a facility that produces materials used in rockets launched into Israel and another site that develops mortar shells.
An unspecified number of PIJ rocket-launching positions were also struck, the military said. The army posted footage from a strike on the rocket facility, and a video from the hit on a PIJ launching position.
Magen David Adom paramedics said they took at least five people in southern Israel to the hospital for treatment Friday night, including four who had fallen down while running to shelters and one person for anxiety.
צה"ל תקף משגרי רקטות נוספים של ארגון הטרור גא"פ.
כלי טיס של צה"ל תקפו לפני זמן קצר, משגרי רקטות נוספים של ארגון הטרור הג'יהאד האיסלמי הפלסטיני בצפון רצועת עזה pic.twitter.com/tOcCNY8i9J
— צבא ההגנה לישראל (@idfonline) August 5, 2022
On Friday night, terrorists from PIJ fired relentless barrages of rockets at Israeli communities in southern and central Israel, hours after the military launched Operation Breaking Dawn with airstrikes in the Strip in response to what leaders said was an ongoing “concrete” threat to target Israeli civilians and soldiers in Gaza-border areas.
In its round of strikes within the operation, the military said six sites were hit by fighter jets and armed drones. One of the strikes killed one of the PIJ’s senior commanders, Tayseer Jabari, whom Israeli leaders said was planning to attack Israeli civilians near the border.
Jabari replaced Abu al-Ata as the group’s commander in northern Gaza after the latter’s assassination by Israel in 2019. The PIJ confirmed Jabari’s death.
The IDF also targeted the head of the anti-tank guided missile array and several squads preparing attacks. The army estimated that between 10-20 terror operatives had been killed in the opening wave of airstrikes.
By nightfall, the Hamas-run health ministry confirmed that at least 15 people had been killed, including a five-year-old girl, and 55 others had been wounded.
Rocket launches on Friday began shortly before 9 p.m., with sirens blaring in Ashkelon, Ashdod, Sderot, Yavne and other communities in the south. Alerts were also heard in the Tel Aviv suburbs of Rishon Lezion, Holon and Bat Yam.
Several Iron Dome interceptor missiles were seen engaging incoming rockets over southern Israel in several separate barrages. There were no reports of casualties or damage from rocket impacts.
According to local authorities, all of the rockets fired appeared to have either landed in open areas or been intercepted by Iron Dome.
By 10 p.m., the PIJ claimed it had launched some 100 rockets at Israel. The IDF said some 80 had been fired in that time. It said nearly half fell short in the Gaza Strip. Over 40 crossed the border, of which 33 were intercepted by Iron Dome. The rest fell in open areas, causing no injuries.
IDF Spokesman Ran Kochav said earlier Friday that “Jabari was responsible for the concrete threat in the last three-four days to fire anti-tank missiles and mow down Israeli civilians or soldiers in the Gaza border area.”
Once the IDF’s intelligence was complete and the preparations had been made over the past three days, added Kochav, “we carried out a devastating ambush that thwarted Jabari and the members of the anti-tank cells, together with others.”
Israeli leaders said the actions were necessary after the group refused to back down from its intentions to carry out attacks. PIJ had been threatening since Tuesday to attack — to reinforce its demand that Israel release its West Bank commander, Bassem Saadi, who was arrested in an IDF raid in Jenin on Monday — causing days of road closures and community lockdowns in areas near the border under immediate threat.
Hebrew media reports indicated that Egypt had been attempting to mediate between the sides in recent days, but failed to convince the PIJ to back down.
Israeli officials said that the Gaza operation was targeting the PIJ specifically, hoping to keep Hamas largely out of the conflict as it did during a 2019 flare-up after the killing of a previous PIJ leader, Baha Abu al-Ata.
As of Friday evening, Hamas appeared to indeed be staying out of the fight for the time being. Though its leaders voiced fiery condemnation of Israel’s actions, the Gaza-ruling terror group did not say it would take part in the fight, nor did it participate in the initial rocket attacks.
In a statement to the media at IDF headquarters in Tel Aviv just as the rocket barrage began, Prime Minister Yair Lapid said the campaign “will take as long as it takes,” and that “this government has a zero-tolerance policy for any attempted attacks – of any kind – from Gaza towards Israeli territory.”
“The directive the security forces received from us was clear: Israel will not sit idly by when there are those who are trying to harm its civilians,” he said. “Terrorist organizations will not set the agenda in the area adjacent to Gaza, we will not tolerate any threat against our civilians.”
Said Lapid: “Today’s activity in Gaza was against concrete threats which disrupted daily routine in southern Israel. Israel isn’t interested in a wider conflict in Gaza, but will not shy away from one either.”
In English remarks, he added: “Islamic Jihad is an Iranian proxy that wants to destroy the State of Israel and kill innocent Israelis. The head of Islamic Jihad is in Tehran as we speak.”
Speaking after Lapid, Defense Minister Benny Gantz stressed that Israel was not targeting Gaza in general or ordinary Gazans, but rather “those who are responsible for the deterioration.” He stressed that Islamic Jihad was responsible for the damage to the security and the economy of Gazans.
“We will destroy those who threaten us,” he warned.
On Friday night, Gantz held a phone call with US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and updated him on the IDF’s efforts. The US has voiced support for Israel’s right to defend itself while calling for calm.
The military said it had deployed the Iron Dome air defense system near Tel Aviv, Jerusalem and Beersheba, as it anticipated retaliation from Islamic Jihad in the form of rocket attacks. The military said a “special situation” had been declared on the homefront, up to 80 kilometers from Gaza — an area extending as far north as Tel Aviv. Residents in areas close to the border were instructed to remain close to bomb shelters, and in the Lachish and central Negev areas gatherings were restricted.
Public bomb shelters were opened in Tel Aviv and the southern city of Beersheba, following instructions by the IDF’s Home Front Command.
The IDF, meanwhile, began to call up reservists to bolster its Southern Command, Home Front Command, air defense array and combat troops in the event of further escalation. Gantz approved calling up as many as 25,000 reservist troops, his office said.
Lapid, Gantz, Alternate Prime Minister Naftali Bennett and top security officials held security consultations on Friday evening to decide on Israel’s next steps.
Tensions around the Gaza Strip spiked following the arrest of Bassam Saadi in Jenin on Monday night. Since then, the military bolstered forces and shuttered routes along the border due to fear of an imminent revenge anti-tank guided missile or sniper attack by the Islamic Jihad. The precautions have largely placed residents of the border communities under lockdown.
Before the campaign began, Gantz had said Israel was “acting with restraint” in response to the border threat but would act with “power” in order to return civilian life in southern Israel to “full normalcy.”
Over the past few days, with armed drones flying over the Strip, the IDF worked to thwart attempts by Islamic Jihad squads to launch an attack on the border.
According to the Shin Bet, Saadi, 61, has been jailed and released by Israel seven times over the years. The Shin Bet said that in recent months, Saadi had “worked even harder to restore PIJ activities, and was behind the creation of a significant military force for the organization in [the northern West Bank] in general and in Jenin in particular.”
“His presence was a significant factor in the radicalization of the organization’s operatives in the field,” the Shin Bet added.
Jenin is widely seen as a hotbed of terror activity. Gunmen and other attackers behind several deadly terrorist attacks earlier this year came from the city and its refugee camp.