Israel launches operation to stop Gaza-based rocket fire

Black smoke rising following an Israeli air strike on the Gaza International Airport in Rafah, July 7, 2014. (Abed Rahim Khatib/Flash 90)

Black smoke rising following an Israeli air strike on the Gaza International Airport in Rafah, July 7, 2014. (Abed Rahim Khatib/Flash 90)

JERUSALEM (JTA) — The Israeli government launched an operation aimed at ending rocket fire from the Gaza Strip.

“#IDF has commenced Operation Protective Edge in #Gaza against #Hamas, in order to stop the terror #Israel’s citizens face on a daily basis,” the spokesman’s office said in a tweet posted at 1:30 a.m. Tuesday, Israel time.

The spokesman’s office tweets continued through the night, with the hashtag #ItMustStop. “3.5 million: the number of Israelis under threat by #Hamas rockets #ItMustStop,” read one posted at 3:31 a.m.

Earlier reports in Israeli media had said that the security Cabinet decided at a three-hour meeting on Monday to steadily increase Israel’s military retaliation.

The Israel Defense Forces said it was calling up some 1,500 reserves in preparation for the expanded operations near the Gaza Strip.

Meanwhile, Hamas claimed responsibility for dozens of rocket attacks — estimated at more than 40 by the IDF — that struck southern Israel from 8 to 9 Monday night. The bombing continued throughout the night, causing damage in several communities.

The Iron Dome defense system intercepted 12 rockets from the attacks — seven above Ashdod and five over Netivot — the IDF said. Another rocket was intercepted later over Beersheba.

Residents in southern Israeli communities within 25 miles of the Gaza border were advised to stay within 15 seconds of a shelter or protected room. It also ordered the municipalities of Ashdod, Ashkelon and Beersheba, as well as the Southern regional councils, to open and prepare public bomb shelters.

Summer camps and special education programs were canceled Tuesday in Ashdod.

The IDF denied reports that one of its airstrikes had killed six Hamas terrorists in a secret tunnel, saying Hamas operatives had collapsed the tunnel themselves by mishandling explosives intended to attack Israel.

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas on Monday night called for an immediate end to Israeli military strikes on Gaza, calling on the international community to help put a stop to the attacks, according to reports.

U.S. State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki in a regular briefing with reporters Monday afternoon denounced the rocket barrage and said Israel has the right to defend its citizens.

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