Three women were killed and over a dozen other civilians were wounded after terrorists in the Gaza Strip fired a barrage of rockets in the direction of Tel Aviv on Tuesday.
Sirens sounded throughout the centre of the country as hundreds of rockets pelted the South. The barrage came hours after Hamas warned Israel it would fire missiles into Tel Aviv if the IDF continued to strike buildings in the Gaza Strip.
One of the rockets hit a bus in Holon, just south of Tel Aviv, and two others fell in Rishon Lezion, killing a civilian.
Earlier in the day, two women were killed in Ashkelon as rockets struck the southern city. The IDF continued to target Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad terrorist sites throughout the Gaza Strip.
One of the women killed in Ashkelon was identified as Soumya Santhosh, an Indian national who worked as a caregiver for an elderly woman in Ashkelon. The elderly woman sustained serious injuries.
The rockets fired at Tel Aviv set off sirens in Herzliya, Ra’anana and the Sharon region. The barrage came after Israel bombed a 13-story building in Gaza.
More than 800 rockets were fired into Israel from Gaza since Monday, the IDF said, adding that 150 fell inside the Strip, and another 200 were intercepted by the Iron Dome.
Following a visit to the Southern Command headquarters, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the intensity and rate of IDF attacks would increase.
“We are in the midst of a campaign,” he said. “Since yesterday, the IDF has been attacking hundreds of Hamas and [Palestinian] Islamic Jihad sites in Gaza. We have neutralized commanders; we have hit many of their quality targets. Hamas will be struck in ways that it did not expect.”
Netanyahu and Defense Minister Benny Gantz said in a late-night statement that Hamas will be hit hard.
“Hamas and Islamic Jihad have paid and will continue to pay,” said Netanyahu. “We are all mourning those killed and praying for those who were injured. We all give our full support to the IDF and Israeli security forces. This campaign will take time.”
Israel has “the right and the obligation to act and will continue to do so,” said Gantz.
Israel struck 500 targets killing dozens of terrorists, said IDF Chief Of Staff Lt.-Gen. Aviv Kohavi. “We will continue extensive strikes against Gaza,” Kohavi went on to say.
A senior diplomatic official on Tuesday said Israel would not negotiate a ceasefire before Hamas pays a price for its attacks.
“Hamas fired a bunch of rockets, and then, of course, they want a ceasefire,” the official said. “That’s perfect for them; they don’t have to pay a price for firing on Jerusalem and then 500 rockets... There will be a ceasefire when we’re ready for it.”
The official would not confirm or deny a report on Channel 12 News that Israel had declined an Egyptian offer to negotiate a ceasefire or whether Egypt had made an offer.
The IDF said it had killed two top PIJ commanders in Gaza who were responsible for the rocket fire.
More than 100 Israelis have been injured as about a dozen buildings in Ashdod and Ashkelon were hit by rockets, the Israel Police reported. One of the buildings was a school.
A gas pipeline was also set alight Tuesday by a rocket landing nearby, and Ben-Gurion Airport closed for a couple of hours.
Israel has also begun targeting terrorist commanders, IDF spokesman Hidai Zilberman said, including the commander of Hamas’s anti-tank guided-missile unit, Iyad Fathi Faik Sharir, who carried out a number of attacks against Israel in the past.
“The ATGM unit in Gaza City was prepared to carry out anti-tank guided-missile attacks at the time of the strike,” the IDF said.
One of the Palestinian terrorists killed was identified as Samah Abed al-Mamlouk. The IDF and Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) said he was attacked in a hideout together with other PIJ operatives. Mamlouk was in charge of PIJ’s rocket arsenal, the IDF said.
In another strike, Hassan Abu al-Ata, deputy commander of PIJ’s Gaza Brigade, was killed when the IDF struck an apartment in an eight-story building in Gaza City’s Rimal neighbourhood. He was the brother of Bahaa Abu al-Ata, who was killed in a targeted strike in 2019.
Before the strike, Defense Minister Benny Gantz approved the call-up of 5,000 reservists as the IDF prepared for a large-scale offensive in the Gaza Strip.
The 101st Battalion of the Paratroopers Brigade and the Egoz commando unit was deployed to the South, and the 202nd Battalion was deployed to the West Bank on Tuesday morning.
“For every day of shooting at the citizens of Israel we will send [Hamas and PIJ] back years and hit them hard,” Gantz said at an operational assessment with Southern Command officers and heads of local municipalities in the South.
“We will not stop until calm returns,” he said. “We will not stop until we achieve long-term calm and severe damage to the terrorist infrastructure.”
Gantz later said he anticipated Hamas would make a “victory speech,” but the reality is they will suffer a “very serious blow.”
“We are less than a day since the start of the operation, carrying out a massive wave of attacks in a campaign that began in Jerusalem,” he said. “We have embarked on a campaign that will hurt Hamas seriously.”
IDF Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Aviv Kohavi ordered the reinforcement of the Gaza Pision with infantry and armoured brigades along with the continued redeployment of intelligence and air units.
He ordered the continued striking of Hamas and PIJ weapons and storage sites, as well as the expanding of the strikes to other targets, including operatives of the terrorist groups.
“The IDF will continue to act resolutely to restore security to the residents of the South, and all commanders must prepare for the expansion of the campaign, with no time limit,” the IDF said in a statement.
In retaliation for the rocket fire that terrorist groups said came as part of an operation they called “Sword of Jerusalem,” the IDF carried out waves of airstrikes overnight into Tuesday against terrorist targets in operation “Guardians of the Wall.”
Hamas took responsibility for the barrages, saying the “Qassam Brigades directed the largest missile strike so far on the occupied cities of Ashdod and Ashkelon in response to the enemy’s continued targeting of houses and resistance men, and the next is greater, God willing.”
The military is “prepared for a variety of scenarios,” including an escalation, Zilberman said, adding that the operation would last “several days” and will deal a hard blow to Hamas.
The IDF deployed additional Iron Dome batteries to the southern Gush Dan region and added an extra Iron Dome battery that had been in reserve.
Under orders from Home Front Command, local councils within a 40-km radius of the Gaza Strip shut schools on Tuesday and Wednesday and banned large public gatherings. Under the restrictions, only 10 people can gather outside and 100 inside, as long as there is a bomb shelter nearby that can accommodate all participants. In the Shfela region, up to 30 people can gather outside and 300 inside.
Zilberman stressed that while more than 200 rockets had been fired toward Israel in the morning, a third of them fell inside Gaza, and the Iron Dome missile defence system had a 90% success rate in intercepting rockets fired from the Strip.
Nevertheless, several homes sustained direct hits from the rocket fire.
One rocket struck a house in Nir Am, in the Sha’ar Hanegev region, shortly after midnight on Monday night. No injuries were reported.
On Tuesday at around 6 a.m., a wave of rockets hit two residences in Ashkelon. One rocket hit a family home. The father suffered moderate-to-serious injuries to his head, the mother was in moderate condition, and the children suffered light injuries.
Later in the day, some residential buildings in Ashdod and Ashkelon were hit by rockets.
Overnight on Monday, Hamas told Egyptian officials the terrorist groups in Gaza would refuse to engage in any negotiations unless Israel withdraws security forces from the Temple Mount and Sheikh Jarrah neighbourhood and releases all those detained in recent clashes in Jerusalem and the West Bank, according to London-based Arab media outlet Al-Araby Al-Jadeed.
Hamas told Egyptian officials they were “completely dropping” previous agreements reached with Israel and starting at square zero, the report said.
The IDF did not express an interest in a ceasefire at the moment. In response to questions about a possible ceasefire, Zilberman said: “Talk to the Palestinians. I know nothing about that.”
An IDF drill, known as “Chariots of Fire,” which was meant to be the military’s largest exercise and would have involved all units of the IDF, was postponed.
“Chief of Staff Aviv Kohavi ordered the IDF to focus its efforts on preparation and readiness for the possible scenarios of escalating [violence],” the military said in a statement.
Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi spoke to US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, and “emphasized that Israel has the right to defend its sovereignty and will not allow attempts to hurt its citizens.” He said Israel will continue to use a heavy hand against Hamas terrorists.
“Hamas chose the path of terrorism and shot over 600 rockets at civilian populations in Jerusalem, the capital of Israel, and the centre of Israel and its south, hurting dozens of innocent people and killing three,” he added.
Ashkenazi thanked Blinken for US support for Israel’s right to defend itself. He also called on the international community to condemn Hamas terrorism and the rocket fire from Gaza, rather than give a prize to terrorism.
Lahav Harkov contributed to this report.
From the Jerusalem Post here.