Despite ceasefire reports, strikes and rockets continue
Rockets were fired at Sderot long after a ceasefire was supposed to go into effect; IDF continued striking Hamas targets in Gaza; Earlier, militants fired heavy barrage after 9pm, Sderot home suffered direct hit, no injuries; Palestinian reports of Egyptian brokered ceasefire unconfirmed.
Despite declarations by Hamas that a ceasefire was to go into effect at 10:00 pm Monday, IDF strikes on Hamas targets and rocket fire into Israel continued late Monday night.
According to reports from the Gaza Strip, an Egyptian brokered ceasefire was reached Monday evening but at about 10:30, the Israeli Navy fired at targets at the Khan Yunis Port in Gaza and IAF aircraft struck tunnels just East of Gaza City. Shortly afterward, Code Red sirens could be heard in the Gaza vicinity communities.
According to reports from the al-Arabiye channel, Egyptian officials asked Israel to end its offensive against military targets in the Gaza Strip and warned militants that they will cease sponsoring negotiations between Palestinians factions. As an indication that events are scheduled to return to normal, Hamas announced that all government agencies including the Gaza education department will operate normally on Tuesday.
Before the firing began, an Egyptian delegation cancelled its planned entry into the Gaza Strip as militants warned that an Israeli offensive will be met with a harsh response.
Earlier, shortly after the Israeli Air Force destroyed the offices of Hamas leader Ismail Haniye Monday evening, a heavy barrage of rockets were fired from the territory into southern Israel. A home in Sderot suffered a direct hit but the rocket failed to explode and the homeowner was unharmed and in the shelter.
The joint operations control center for Gaza militants announced that in response to attacks against target in Gaza, they fired a barrage at targets in Sderot and Netivot and warned that if Israel continues, the fire range will be expanded.
The IDF made prior preparations throughout the day and deployed Iron dome anti-missile batteries throughout the vicinity.
Public bomb shelters were opened in most major cities and civil defense authorities canceled sports events and public transportation in southern Israel.
"Israel will not tolerate this. I will not tolerate this," Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu declared during a White House meeting with President Donald Trump.
"Israel is responding forcefully to this wanton aggression," he said. "We will do whatever we must do to defend our people and defend our state."
Ahead of the Israeli airstrikes, Hamas' leadership went into hiding.
Among other targets, the IAF attacked a three-story building housing a secret Hamas headquarters serving its security and intelligence agencies. There were no immediate reports of casualties. Israel fired warning shots to evacuate the buildings. But the airstrike on the multistory building was so powerful it sent debris flying onto the roof of The Associated Press bureau, located on the 11th floor of a nearby high-rise.
At 8:15 pm the first Code Red siren of the current round of fighting was heard in the Eshkol Regional Council. No injuries were reported and after 9pm the rocket fire increased.
IDF Spokesman Brig. Gen. Ronen Manelis told reporters that the IDF was planning a wide-range response to the rocket fired early Monday morning.
“We have moved two brigades southwards and called up reserves including air defense and intelligence units as well as Home Front troops. If necessary, we will call up more forces. It is too early to determine how long this will last, we are at the outset and the IDF is ready for a variety of operations; I believe that Hamas understands this,” Manelis said.
In Beirut, the Lebanese Shiite militant group Hezbollah said its leader, Hassan Nasrallah, met Monday with a Hamas delegation led by top official Saleh Arouri. Hezbollah said they discussed the Gaza situation and "Israeli aggression."
Hamas is facing perhaps its toughest domestic test since seizing control of Gaza from the rival Palestinian Authority 12 years ago.
An Israel-Egyptian blockade, imposed to weaken Hamas, combined with sanctions by the Palestinian Authority and mismanagement by the Hamas government, have all fueled an economic crisis that has left Gaza with an unemployment rate above 50 percent.
Monday's attack came 10 days after rockets were fired from Gaza toward Israel's densely populated commercial capital of Tel Aviv, and the Israeli military struck back. Gaza's Hamas leaders said the rocket was fired accidentally and the fighting quickly subsided.
The sounds of air raid sirens jolted residents of the Sharon area, northeast of Tel Aviv, shortly after 5 a.m. Monday, sending them scurrying to bomb shelters. The sound of a strong explosion followed.
The rocket destroyed a residential home in the farming community of Mishmeret, wounding six members of a family. The Magen David Adom rescue service said it treated seven people, including two women who were moderately wounded. The others, including two children and an infant, had minor injuries.
The rocket attack, which caught Israel off guard, may have been an attempt by Hamas to divert attention from its growing domestic woes.
The Israeli military said Hamas militants fired the rocket from southern Gaza. It said its Iron Dome rocket-defense system was not activated because the attack in central Israel had not been anticipated. The army added it was reinforcing its missile defense batteries in preparation for an escalation.
Maj. Mika Lifshitz, a military spokeswoman, said it was a self-manufactured rocket with a range of 120 kilometers (75 miles), making it one of the deepest rocket strikes ever carried out by Hamas.
Lifshitz added that two armor and infantry brigades were being mobilized to the Gaza front and that a limited drafting of reserves was also taking place.
The family home in Mishmeret was left in ruins, with tiles, broken furniture and debris scattered about. A shattered baby's crib lay among the rubble and two family dogs died in the explosion.
"I nearly lost my family," said Robert Wolf, grandfather of the injured residents. "If we hadn't gotten to the bomb shelter in time, I would now be burying all my family."
Netanyahu came under heavy criticism from allies and opponents for what they say has been an ineffective policy containing Gaza militants. He has conducted indirect cease-fire talks through Egyptian mediators in recent months, and even allowed the delivery of millions of dollars of Qatari aid to Hamas to ease harsh conditions in Gaza.
"The reality in which Hamas turned Israel into a hostage is unprecedented and unfathomable," his chief challenger, Benny Gantz, wrote on Twitter on Monday. Gantz is a former military chief who led the army during the last Gaza war in 2014.
Netanyahu also came under attack from his own nationalistic allies.
"Israel's deterrence has collapsed, and it has to be said in all honesty Netanyahu has failed against Hamas," said Education Minister Naftali Bennett, head of the Yamin HeHadash faction in Netanyahu's coalition.
Witnesses reported seeing Hamas evacuating personnel from government premises. Hamas also announced that its Gaza chief, Yehiya Sinwar, had canceled a public speech. Other leaders turned off their mobile phones, while Hamas police were seen evacuating their stations. Hamas even released some prisoners it was holding, in another sign of anxiety.
Israel shut down its main crossings into Gaza and imposed restrictions on fishing off the Gaza coast.
Egypt, Qatar and the United Nations are trying to broker a long-term truce between Israel and Hamas.