IDF renews strikes in Gaza, Hamas rocket fire resumes
After a night of strikes and rockets, the IAF renews attacks across Gaza; over 200 rockets and mortar shells fired at Israel in retaliation since 1:30am, at least 27 intercepted; 2 Palestinians killed in strikes; Hamas confirms talks to stop escalation.
The Israel Air Force renewed its bombardment of the Gaza Strip on Saturday afternoon, attacking dozens of targets and prompting rocket and mortar fire from the strip in retaliation.
The Palestinians reported two teenagers aged 15 and 16 were killed in a strike on a four-stroy unfinished building in the Al-Shati Camp near a Hamas police and security compound, which was used by the terror group as an urban warfare training facility. Ten others were reported wounded in the strike, which reduced the building to rubble.
AFP reported the two teens were on the street outside the building, which was empty at the time of the strike.
Under the building, Hamas dug a tunnel to train in underground warfare. The IDF said the tunnel is one of a network of underground tunnels dug by Hamas in the Gaza Strip.
"The building, which was meant for public services and housing for Gaza residents, was turned by Hamas into a training facility," the IDF said, adding that "the strike was carried out after the residents were warned in advance by the IDF."
Earlier, the IAF destroyed a Hamas battalion command headquarters in Beit Lahiya, which included offices, war rooms, storage areas, and an urban warfare training facility.
"The battalion command's entire infrastructure has been destroyed, vaporized, turned into a giant hole," IDF Spokesman Brig. Gen. Ronen Manelis said.
According to IDF Spokesman Manelis, Saturday afternoon's strikes were "the biggest daylight strikes carried out since Operation Protective Edge."
Manelis said it was "too early to take about a wide-scale operation, but we're prepared for that."
"We knew this day, the events of the last 24 hours, would come in recent weeks, and we prepared for it accordingly. We'll increase the force of the attack for as long as it takes, and we will use other tools when necessary," Manelis added.
An IDF forces operating near the Gaza border fence in the southern part of the strip came under fire Saturday afternoon. None of the troops were hurt and the IDF is investigating whether it was machinegun fire or an anti-tank missile.
In retaliation, an IDF tank opened fire at the source of the attack east of Khan Younis. Two Palestinians were report. Another Palestinian was wounded by IDF tank fire east of the Tuffah neighborhood in Gaza City.
The IDF spokesman said Israel cannot allow the incendiary kites and balloons, the terror attacks against troops on the border as part of "March of Return" protests and the rocket fire from the strip to continue.
"We cannot accept this," he said. "Despite the drop in the number of people coming to the border fence, only yesterday six explosives and grenades were thrown (at troops) and wounded an IDF major."
"We intend to stop all of these," Manelis added.
"Over the past four years, the IDF has always operated against terrorism from the strip, against Hamas's attempts to grow in power, against specific terrorists and against the tunnels. Some 150 Palestinians have been killed since late March (in border protests). The IDF can operate on all fronts and is capable of attacking on at least two fronts at the same time," Manelis warned.
Israel sends messages to Gaza
IDF Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot held a situation assessment at the Gaza Division headquarters on Saturday afternoon.
GOC Southern Command Herzi Halevi, Operations Directorate head Aharon Haliva, Gaza Division command Yehuda Fuchs and other commands participated in the meeting.
"During the situation assessment, the forces' operations was presented and their preparedness to increase the operational activities as required," the IDF said.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has been holding consultations with Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman, IDF chief Eisenkot and other senior defense officials since the strikes and rockets began early Saturday.
"We'll expand the response as much as required. If Hamas doesn't understand the message today, it will understand it tomorrow," Netanyahu said.
Defense Minister Lieberman spoke to UN envoy to the Middle East Nickolay Mladenov, sending a message to the Gaza terror group: "If Hamas doesn't stop, we'll be forced to keep going."
Hamas said that there were talks with Egypt and other international players in an effort to stop the escalation.
"Israel started the attacks and it must stop," a Hamas official said. "The movement is responded to the Israeli aggression."
The Palestinian Islamic Jihad, meanwhile, said it would halt its fire if Israel stopped its airstrikes.
Sources in the Gaza Strip told Ynet that Egyptian intelligence has decided to intervene in the situation and has contacted the Hamas leadership in an effort to stop the violence.
According to the sources, the Egyptians are in contact with Hamas deputy leader in the strip, Khalil al-Hayya, and Hamas official Ruhi Mushtahi. The two have been in Cairo since the beginning of the week for the talks with the heads of the Egyptian intelligence on restarting the Hamas-Fatah reconciliation.
Over 150 Code Red sirens
Hamas, meanwhile, claimed it had created a "balance of terror" with its rocket fire in retaliation to IAF strikes.
"The fast and powerful retaliation of the resistance to the Israeli escalation reflects the resistance's high awareness in managing the conflict," Hamas said in a statement.
"Delivering the massage and guaranteeing the creation of a balance of terror of a quick response (to Israeli strikes) forces Israel to halt the escalation and cease the strikes," the terror group said.
Over 100 rockets and mortar shells have been launched at Israel since 3pm Saturday, with 20 of them intercepted by the Iron Dome missile defense system and 73 falling in open areas.
Over 150 Code Red rocket alerts have been sounded across the Gaza border communities, as well as in Sderot and Ashkelon's industrial area, since 1:35am. Sixty-four rocket-alert sirens were sounded between 1:35am and 6:15am.
There was then a break that lasted until 1:15pm, when the IDF resumed its attacks in the Gaza Strip and with them, the rocket fire restarted.
Code Red sirens since afternoon strikes are as follows:
1:14pm Sha'ar HaNegev Regional Council
1:20pm Hof Ashkelon Regional Council
1:22pm Eshkol Regional Council
1:26pm Eshkol Regional Council
1:29pm Hof Ashkelon Regional Council, Ashkelon industrial area
1:38pm Eshkol Regional Council
1:46pm Hof Ashkelon Regional Council
1:48pm Sderot, Hof Ashkelon Regional Council, Sha'ar HaNegev Regional Council
1:52pm Hof Ashkelon Regional Council
1:58pm Eshkol Regional Council
2:02pm Sderot, Sha'ar HaNegev Regional Council, Sdot Negev Regional Council, Merhavim Regional Council
2:05pm Hof Ashkelon Regional Council
2:06pm Sderot, Sha'ar HaNegev Regional Council, Hof Ashkelon Regional Council, Lakhish Regional Council
2:08pm Eshkol Regional Council
2:09pm Eshkol Regional Council
2:17pm Sha'ar HaNegev Reginal Council, Sdot Negev Regional Council, Hof Ashkelon Regional Council
2:18pm Hof Ashkelon Regional Council
2:19pm Hof Ashkelon Regional Council
2:25pm Hof Ashkelon Regional Council
2:33pm Eshkol Regional Council
2:35pm Hof Ashkelon Regional Council
2:39pm Hof Ashkelon Regional Council
2:53pm Hof Ashkelon Regional Council, Sha'ar HaNegev Regional Council
2:56pm Eshkol Regional Council
3:02pm Sha'ar HaNegev Regional Council
3:09pm Eshkol Regional Council
3:14pm Hof Ashkelon Regional Council
3:15pm Sha'ar HaNegev Regional Council
3:16pm Hof Ashkelon Regional Council
3:19pm Eshkol Regional Council
3:20pm Eshkol Regional Council
3:24pm Sha'ar HaNegev Regional Council and Hof Ashkelon Regional Council
3:27pm Sha'ar HaNegev Regional Council
3:28pm Sha'ar HaNegev Regional Council
3:31pm Eshkol Regional Council
3:33pm Eshkol Regional Council
3:41pm Hof Ashkelon Regional Council
4:04pm Sha'ar HaNegev Regional Council
4:27pm Sha'ar HaNegev Regional Council and Sdot Negev Regional Council
4:30pm Hof Ashkelon Regional Council
4:45pm Eshkol Regional Council and Sdot Negev Regional Council
4:55pm Sha'ar HaNegev Regional Council
5:05pm Eshkol Regional Council
5:53pm Eshkol Regional Council
6:14pm Hof Ashkelon Regional Council
6:20pm Hof Ashkelon Regional Council
6:46pm Sha'ar HaNegev Regional Council
6:53pm Sha'ar HaNegev Regional Council
6:55pm Sha'ar HaNegev Regional Council
7:12pm Hof Ashkelon Regional Council
7:57pm Sha'ar HaNegev Regional Council, Sdot Negev Regional Council, Netivot Regional Council
8:18pm Eshkol Regional Council
8:59pm Sha'ar HaNegev Regional Council, Hof Ashkelon Regional Council
9:04pm Eshkol Regional Council
Four Israelis suffered light injuries when a rocket landed near a home in Sderot.
Damage was caused to a chicken coop in one of the communities in Eshkol from a mortar shell.
The Security Cabinet is set to convene Sunday at 12:30pm to discuss the recent escalation, with Cabinet members being informed of the IDF's strikes on Friday night.
Meanwhile, 11 fires broke out in Israeli communities near the Gaza border as a result of incendiary balloons and kites, including two in the Gvar'am forest. Firefighters were able to gain control of all of the fires.
The IDF attacked two Hamas terror tunnels in Rafah and Beit Hanoun and a logistical center for the incendiary balloons and kites operations early Saturday in response to renewed violence on the Gaza border, to which the terror organization retaliated by firing 31 projectiles at Israel (27 mortar shells and the rest rockets).
Code red sirens were repeatedly sounded throughout the night across Israel's southern communities—at the Sha'ar HaNegev, Sdot Negev, Eshkol, and Hof Ashkelon regional councils, as well as in Ashkelon's industrial area—as more and more rockets and mortar shells were launched from the Gaza Strip.
The Iron Dome missile-defense system intercepted seven projectiles. One projectile landed in a kibbutz in Shaar HaNegev.
As a precaution, the IDF has instructed residents in Gaza border communities to remain within 15-seconds from bomb shelters or safe rooms. The army also restricted gatherings of more than 100 people in open areas and more than 500 people in closed spaces in communities located within 0-7 kilometers from the border.
The Zikim beach was also closed for entrance and bathing.
The IDF posted a warning in Arabic on its social media sites, saying: "This a special announcement to Gaza's residents. You are requested to immediately remove yourselves from every facility or infrastructure that are used by terror organizations, to stay away from every person that is known as a terrorist and from every place in which terror organizations operate. Beware, you have been warned."
In an early post, the IDF displayed photos of Gaza taken during Operation Protective Edge, Operation Pillar of Defense, and Operation Cast Lead with the caption, "these are the destructive sights of each of the military operations the Hamas terror organization has forced on Gaza's residents over the last decade.
"We are confident that Gaza's residents remember very well the destruction inflicted upon them by this terror organization, and we are certain they understand today as well that Hamas could bring back those and much worse sights as it continues its terror activity against Israel.
"The images from 2018 could be much more horrific than those of 2014," the warning concluded.
Hamas said it fired the rockets to deter Israel from further action. Most of the recent rockets from Gaza have been fired by smaller factions. Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum said it was an "immediate response" that was meant to "deliver the message."
The terror organization added it had "created a terror balance forcing Israel to halt the escalation following the massive firing at the Gaza border communities and not to proceeds with its strikes (on Gaza)."