JERUSALEM (JTA) — Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told the Israeli military to “take off the gloves” against Hamas, as Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon prepared the public for a long campaign in Gaza.
“Hamas chose to escalate the situation and it will pay a heavy price for doing so,” Netanyahu said Tuesday morning as he entered meetings with defense officials at the Kirya Military Headquarters in Tel Aviv hours following the launch of Operation Protective Edge in the Gaza Strip.
Responding to a continuing rocket barrage from Gaza on southern Israel in the past several days, including at least 80 rockets fired Monday evening, the Israel Defense Forces struck 50 Hamas targets starting at about 1 a.m. Tuesday. The targets included concealed rocket launchers, weapons factories and the homes of top Hamas operatives, according to the IDF.
Protective Edge will expand in the coming days, including preparations for a ground invasion of Gaza, the IDF told reporters. Several thousand more reservists are expected to be called up in the coming days in addition to the 1,500 reservists called up thus far.
Yaalon called for patience at the start of the operation.
“We are prepared for a campaign against Hamas, which will not end within days,” he said Tuesday morning. “Hamas is leading the current confrontation to a place in which it seeks to exact a heavy price from our home front.”
Israel’s Home Front Command declared a special situation in southern Israeli communities located within 25 miles of the Gaza border that allows Israeli authorities to set rules during times of military conflict in order to maintain public safety. It also protects employees living in the area from being fired from their jobs if they miss work.
“The situation in the south has become insufferable,” Interior Security Minister Yitzhak Aharonovich told reporters. “We cannot allow over a million citizens be held hostage in bomb shelters.” He added that Hamas is responsible for bringing back the calm.
Egypt reportedly continues to work to bring about a cease-fire in which Hamas agrees to halt rocket fire on southern Israel and Israel agrees to halt aerial strikes on targets in Gaza.
Summer camp and high school matriculation exams, as well as exams and studies at Ben Gurion University, have been closed amid the falling rockets. Events with more than 300 people also have been ordered canceled in the 25-mile zone. Public bomb shelters have been prepared in municipalities including Ashkelon, Ashdod and Beersheba.
Meanwhile, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas called on Israel to “stop its escalation and the raids on Gaza” in a statement published by the official Palestinian Wafa news agency.
Since the beginning of the year, more than 450 rockets have been fired from the Gaza Strip at civilians in southern Israel, according to the IDF.