ISRAEL: Israel struck 50 targets in the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip by air and sea overnight and is calling up reservists for a possible ground operation to stop a barrage of Palestinian rocket fire into its territory, a military spokesman said.
Among the targets hit in the opening salvo of “Operation Protective Edge” were rocket launchers, training bases and at least four homes of Palestinian militants, army spokesman Lieutenant-Colonel Peter Lerner said in a phone briefing. Forty- seven of the strikes were carried out by aircraft, he said.
The military has also been given “the green light” to call up more reservists for a possible ground operation into Gaza, Lerner said. Israel has already called up 1,500 reservists to boost the regular infantry and paratroop forces stationed along the Gaza border.
“We are preparing a campaign against Hamas, which will not end in just a few days,” Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon said in an e-mailed statement. “We will not tolerate rocket fire at Israeli communities, and we are prepared to expand the campaign by every means at our disposal.”
Israel’s benchmark TA-25 Index dropped 0.6 percent to 1,371.52 at 11:07 a.m. in Tel Aviv today. The shekel weakened 0.1 percent against the dollar and was trading at 3.4312.
The operation is Israel’s biggest campaign against Hamas since it launched a week-long series of air strikes on Hamas in 2012 that ended with an Egypt-mediated truce to halt rocket attacks. Israel conducted a ground operation into Gaza in 2009 in which over 1,000 Palestinians were killed.
Gaza militants began bombarding southern Israel after the kidnapping and killing of three Israeli teenagers last month led to an Israeli roundup of Hamas operatives in the West Bank. The attacks increased after the suspected revenge killing of a Palestinian teenager in Jerusalem last week.
About 240 have hit Israel since the June 12 abduction, including over 100 since yesterday, according to the military’s count. Some of the rockets reached 25 miles (40 kilometers) deep into Israeli territory, police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said, with no fatalities or serious injuries reported.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has blamed the killings of the three Israel teenagers on Hamas, which has neither confirmed nor denied involvement. Israel, like the U.S. and European Union, considers Hamas a terrorist organization.
A dozen Palestinians have been killed in Gaza air strikes and seven in the West Bank arrest raids over the past month. At least 12 Palestinians were injured overnight, and the homes of three militants were destroyed in the Israeli strikes, according to Ashraf al-Qedra, chief of the Gaza emergency medical services.
Family members of the militants said they received warning calls to evacuate their homes before they were fired on.
Israel evacuated Gaza in 2005 after a 38-year occupation. Hamas took control of the area in 2007 after a violent clash with the rival Fatah forces of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.
Residents of Israeli communities within a 25-mile radius of Gaza have been instructed not to congregate in large groups, and kindergartens and summer camps in that area have been told to cancel sessions, Lerner said.
For the first time yesterday, Hamas took responsibility for rockets fired during the latest round of violence. The statement to reporters may have implications for the formation last month of the new Palestinian unity government backed by Hamas. Abbas has said the new government, which ended a seven-year rift between the West Bank and Gaza, would abide by principles of non-violence. About 10 Palestinian officials contacted by phone declined to comment.
“This puts Abu Mazen in a very bad position,” said Moshe Maoz, professor emeritus of Islamic and Middle Eastern Studies at The Hebrew University of Jerusalem. Maoz said, using a name Abbas goes by. “He won’t be able to work any longer with Hamas.”
Israel is shunning the new Palestinian government, established after the collapse of U.S.-sponsored peace talks in April, because of its Hamas backing. In a statement carried on the official Palestinian Wafa news agency yesterday, Abbas demanded that Israel halt its air strikes and refrain from a “dangerous escalation” that could embroil the entire Middle East.
“Hamas is weaker than ever,” Israeli Finance Minister Yair Lapid said today on Army Radio’ “Hamas is so weak that we also have to examine all the possible scenarios if Hamas collapses, and who will take over in the vacuum that will be created.”
U.S. President Barack Obama, in an article under his byline in Israel’s Haaretz newspaper today, urging both sides to “protect the innocent and act with reasonableness and restraint, not vengeance and retribution.” State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said in at press briefing yesterday the U.S. condemns “the continuing rocket fire into Israel, but we also support Israel’s right to defend itself against these attacks.”