Israel launched an air and sea assault on terrorist targets in the Gaza Strip shortly before dawn today in a bid to quell persistent rocket fire on southern Israel from Hamas and other terrorist groups. Eighty rockets were fired on Monday alone.
The assault comes in the wake of the murder of three kidnapped yeshiva students, and the subsequent murder of a Palestinian teen in what is believed to be a revenge killing carried out by Israeli extremists.
Dubbed Operation Protective Edge, the Israeli military said its reprisal attacks would continue for several days. Israel also called up 40,000 reservists should a ground war be necessary.
Within hours of the Israeli assault, Hamas claimed that seven people — including children — had been killed and 25 wounded.
Israel said its targets included a “terror command center embedded within civilian structures” near Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip.
Reporters in the Gaza Strip interviewed one man whose four-story home had been destroyed by an Israeli drone strike. He said he received a phone call telling him to get everyone out of the house immediately. Ten minutes later — after everyone had left the house — it was flattened.
The Israeli government is planning to escalate its attacks on Hamas and other terrorist groups slamming southern Israel with rocket fire from the Gaza Strip.
The Security Cabinet decided at a three-hour meeting on Monday to steadily increase Israel’s military retaliation, according to reports.
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.
Israel responded Sunday night and Monday morning with attacks on concealed rocket launchers and nine of what its military called “terror sites.
Several hours before the rocket attacks began, Hamas uploaded a video warning residents to abandon the city.
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“To the settlers of Beersheba, your leaders have killed our children, bombed our homes, and sentenced you to death. Run before it’s too late,” said the terrorist group’s video in Hebrew and Arabic.
Israeli officials advised residents in southern Israeli communities within 25 miles of the Gaza border 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.
More than 180 rockets fired from Gaza have landed in southern Israel in the past three weeks, according to the Israeli army.
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 denounced the rocket barrage and said Israel has the right to defend its citizens in a regular briefing with reporters Monday afternoon.
JTA contributed to this report.