The latest escalation in Gaza rocket attacks on southern Israel may lead to assassinations of Hamas military wing leaders, the IDF warns, with army officials saying they cannot discount this possibility.
Military officials made it clear that Saturday's barrage of some 50 mortar shells at the western Negev will not be ignored, adding that the army's aerial attacks Saturday afternoon were merely "the first bullets" in Israel's response.
The IDF's initial response included massive tank and aerial fire directed at some 10 Hamas targets, including outposts and observation posts. The army's strike lasted 45 minutes and the IDF says Hamas men who manned various positions were hurt.
The Gaza Health Ministry spokesman said earlier that at least one senior Hamas man was killed and four civilians were wounded in the IDF strikes.
The army struck across the Strip after Hamas and other terror groups fired dozens of mortar shells at southern Israel earlier in the day.
Hamas Spokesman Ismail Radwan said the mortar barrages came in reaction to Israeli Air Force attacks that killed group members and warned Jerusalem "not to test Hamas' response."
Army chief: Situation under controlMeanwhile, IDF Chief of Staff Benny Gantz visited southern communities targeted by the mortar attacks. The army chief entered homes damaged in the strikes, spoke with residents and also discussed the situation with the head of the Eshkol Regional Council.
"We know what we're doing, and as far as we're concerned the situation is under control," Gantz said at the conclusion of the visit.
However, unlike previous cases, where rockets were fired by various Islamic factions, Saturday's barrages were fired by Hamas men. As result, IDF officials are seeing "potential for escalation" in and around the Strip.
Southern residents received warning of the incoming mortar shells via text messages and phone calls, quickly rushing to bomb shelters. As result of the quick action, only two residents sustained light wounds in the major barrages. Following the unusual scope of the Palestinian attack, the IDF decided to activate its multifaceted radar system in order to improve the alert given to residents.
Following the mortar attack, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said that Israel will respond firmly to any Gaza attack, and that every such incident will be met with a response.
Opposition leader Tzipi Livni also called for harsh response to the attacks.
"Hamas does not recognize our right to exist here. It is no partner for peace and an agreement," she said. "The right way to contend with it is through force, as Israel did during Operation Cast Lead and after it…as far as activity vis-à-vis Hamas is concerned, there are no disagreements between the opposition and the coalition."
Ilana Curiel contributed to the story
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