During a meeting with members of the General Staff Forum, IDF Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Benny Gantz said the army has intensified its attacks on targets in Gaza Sunday amid incessant rocket fire on Israel's southern region.
The army estimates the current round of violence in the south will continue in the next few days. The violence erupted on Friday when an Israeli airstrike killed Zuhir al-Qaisi, the leader of the Popular Resistance Committees.
Sunday evening saw the Iron Dome system intercept two rockets that were fired toward the city of Ashkelon. Another rocket was intercepted over the Ashkelon Regional Council.
Due to the continued rocket fire, schools in most southern communities will remain closed on Monday.
Gantz has instructed the Southern Command to make use of intelligence information gathered by the army and the Shin Bet security service. He said the information justifies the continued attacks in Gaza, which are aimed at quelling the rocket fire emanating from the Hamas-ruled territory.
During the meeting, the top IDF officers said Islamic Jihad, which has fired dozens of rockets toward Israel since the current round of violence began on Friday, did not have any major achievements and therefore intensified its rocket fire on Sunday.
Rocket landing site in Beersheba (Photo: Herzl Yosef)
The IDF, for its part, has increased the number of strikes on rocket-launchers and launching pads in Gaza. Gantz accused Hamas of not working to thwart the rocket attacks on Israel.
IDF Spokesperson Brigadier General Yoav Mordechai said Islamic Jihad was "continuing to operate as the long arm of Iran, which bolsters it by sending weapons and money directly from Tehran."
Also Sunday, Defense Minister Ehud Barak met Gantz and senior intelligence officials. "The IDF will hit hard those who try to harm Israeli civilians," he said.
According to the army, 95 rocket and mortar landing sites have been identified since Friday. The Iron Dome system has intercepted 40 rockets.
At around noon Sunday Beersheba suffered two direct hits. One woman suffered from anxiety after one of the rockets landed in a residential neighborhood. Fifteen homes were damaged.
The second rocket landed near a school, which was empty due to the continued rocket fire.
The Ma'an news agency quoted Hamas prime minister in Gaza Ismail Haniyeh as saying that armed Palestinian factions in the coastal strip have responded positively to his talks with Egypt, which he claims are aimed at halt the violence.
Egypt is "working around the clock" to stop the violence, Haniyeh said.
However, Islamic Jihad said it was not involved in the truce discussions. "There are no talks," said the terror group's spokesman, Daud Shihab.
"Should the Israeli aggression continue and there will be more victims – there will be no room for talks on a ceasefire."
Army chief Gantz has canceled a scheduled trip to the US due to the escalation.
Security establishment officials said the army was preparing for the possibility that Palestinian terrorists will attempt to fire rockets toward Israeli communities located more than 40 kilometers (about 25 miles) from the Gaza border.
More than 40 rockets were fired toward Israel on Sunday, with five people suffering from shock. In light of the escalation, many schools in the area will remain closed on Monday.
Since Friday, the IDF has carried out 24 strikes in Gaza, including 16 against terror cells who were attempting to launch rockets at Israel and eight on warehouses where weapons and ammunition were being stored and manufactured.
Attila Somfalvi contributed to the report
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