Palestinian militants in Gaza fired over 300 rockets and mortar shells into southern Israel within a span of five hours Monday evening in the most intense hostilities in the region since 2014.
Rockets continued late into the evening as sirens went off throughout southern Israel. Rocket strikes were reported in Ashkelon and in the town of Sderot, as well as in Netivot where the local religious council building was hit. A rocket also hit a home in Ashkelon causing a fire to break out. Code Red sirens were sounded throughout the south, including in Be’er Sheva.
MDA reported that over the course of the day, 50 Israelis were hospitalized at Barzilai Medical Center in Ashkelon due to the hostilities. At least 19 were injured by the rocket fire and an additional 31 people were treated for shock. Soroka Medical Center in Be'er Sheva treated 47 people, three injured and the rest were suffering from shock.
A 19 year-old IDF soldier is in critical condition after a Cornet anti-tank missile was fired at an empty bus he was standing beside near the Gaza border. The bus, from which IDF troops had just disembarked, was completely destroyed.
Iron Dome batteries were deployed throughout the south and have intercepted more than 60 missiles deemed to pose a danger to Israelis.
Due to the barrages, residents throughout the region were instructed to stay close to shelters and protected areas.
The Israeli Air Force struck at least 70 terror targets throughout Gaza; at least two Palestinian militants were killed and nine injured in the airstrikes.
An Israeli airstrike destroyed the Hamas affiliated al-Aqsa TV station in Gaza, along with several nearby homes, after firing warning shots. The strike elicited sharp words promising revenge from the Islamic Jihad terror group. The station returned to the air shortly after.
IDF reinforcements are making their way toward the Gaza Strip vicinity as security is being beefed up to prevent terrorist infiltrations into Israeli communities near the border.
Among the regions where Code Red sirens went off: Sdot Negev, Ashkelon Beach, Sha’ar Hanegev and Eshkol. Sirens were heard as far as in the Dead Sea region and the Hebron Hills area as well.
Residents of Ashdod, Ashkelon and Be’er Sheva were also instructed to remain near shelters.
School was cancelled Tuesday for all students in Ashkelon, Kiryat Malachi and Kiryat Gat.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu met with security officials in Tel Aviv to discuss the deteriorating security situation and the Security Cabinet is set to convene on Tuesday at 16:00.
The IDF Spokesperson's Unit blamed Hamas for the escalation and stated that IDF aircraft attacked more than 70 Hamas and Islamic Jihad targets in the Gaza Strip in response to the rocket fire including terror tunnels, observation posts and weapons depots. In addition, tanks bombard Hamas positions in the northern Gaza Strip.
Hamas and the Islamic Jihad said that the rocket fire was revenge for Sunday night's Israeli incursion into the strip. Islamic Jihad spokesman Daoud Shehab said the groups wanted "the occupation and its supporters know that the lives of our sons come with a price."
They also asserted that if Israel escalates its response, they will launch rockets even deeper into Israel.
“The resistance’ response is the natural response in the name of the Palestinian people… Israelis will not feel safe as long as the Palestinians do not achieve security,” read a statement by Gaza militants.
Jason Greenblat, US President Donald Trump’s envoy to the Middle East, said: "Gaza terrorists are once again attacking Israel with rockets and mortars. We must all condemn these attacks. Israel must once again use military force to protect its citizens. We stand with Israel in its defense against these attacks. Hamas’s actions continue to prove that they do not care about the people of Gaza and they use them for their political agenda… The world is sick of the violence of Hamas and other negative elements in Gaza. This violence is preventing true assistance to the people of Gaza."
All events scheduled for Monday night in the Gaza vicinity were canceled. The Mayor of Ashkelon said that "in the context of the security tensions, the mayor has ordered the opening of all the public shelters throughout the city, and teams of the Operations Administration are making their way to the various centers in order to do so."
The UN Envoy to the Mideast Nickolay Mladenov tweeted: “The #UN is working closely with #Egypt & all concerned to ensure that #Gaza steps back from the brink. The escalation in the past 24hrs is EXTREMELY dangerous & reckless. Rockets must STOP, restraint must be shown by all! No effort must be spared to reverse the spiral of violence.”
Israel and Egypt have maintained a blockade on Gaza since the Hamas takeover. The blockade has devastated Gaza's economy. Unemployment is over 50 percent, the territory suffers from chronic power outages and most residents are unable to travel abroad.
For over seven months, Hamas has been leading protests along the Israeli border aimed in large part at breaking the blockade. More than 170 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli fire during the protests. Israel says it is defending its border against militant infiltration attempts.
In recent weeks, Egyptian and UN mediators had appeared to make progress in brokering informal understandings aimed at quieting the situation.
Last week, Israel allowed Qatar to deliver $15 million to Gaza to allow cash-strapped Hamas to pay the salaries of thousands of government workers. At the same time, Hamas has lowered the intensity of the border protests in recent weeks.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu cut short a visit to Paris because of the flare-up and returned to Israel on Monday for consultations with top security officials.
The Hamas military wing, Izzedine al-Qassam, said that in Sunday's incursion, Israeli undercover forces drove about 3 kilometers (2 miles) into southeastern Gaza and shot and killed Nour el-Deen Baraka, a mid-level commander in the southern Gaza town of Khan Younis. Qassam members discovered the car and chased it, prompting Israeli airstrikes that killed several people, the group said.
The military provided few details about Sunday's raid. The Israeli military chief, Lt. Gen. Gadi Eisenkot, said a "special force" carried out "a very meaningful operation to Israel's security," without elaborating.
Conricus said the operation was "not intended to kill or abduct terrorists but to strengthen Israeli security." He said the force faced a "very complex battle" and was able to "ex-filtrate in its entirety."
In a tweet after his arrival back home, Netanyahu praised the slain officer, whose identity was kept confidential for security reasons, and said "our forces acted courageously." The officer's funeral was held Monday.
On Sunday, Netanyahu defended his decision to allow through the Qatari cash to Gaza as a way to avert an "unnecessary war," maintain quiet for residents of southern Israel and prevent a humanitarian catastrophe in the impoverished Gaza Strip.