Fighting in Gaza escalated Sunday following rocket attacks by Hamas and retaliatory airstrikes by Israel on Saturday. The two-day conflict has left at least 12 Palestinians and four Israelis dead.
The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) claimed Hamas fired hundreds of rockets from the Gaza Strip into southern Israel Saturday in the first attack on Tel Aviv since 2014. By Sunday, the IDF said the number of rockets fired totaled 600. Israel’s Iron Dome missile defense system intercepted and neutralized at least 150 of these rockets before they hit their intended targets.
Israel responded to the rockets with airstrikes Saturday; according to officials in Gaza, these initial strikes killed at least one person and injured at least six others.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu released a statement on Sunday that said, “This morning I instructed the IDF to continue with massive strikes against terrorists in the Gaza Strip.”
Netanyahu, who also serves as Israel’s defense minister, said he had also ordered “tanks, artillery, and infantry forces” to reinforce troops already deployed near Gaza.
Executing the prime minister’s directive, the IDF said Sunday it has conducted attacks on more than 260 military targets in Gaza, including an assault on what the Israeli military described as a “building where Hamas cyber operatives work” and a targeted attack against a Palestinian militant commander it says funneled money to “terror organizations operating within the Gaza Strip.”
The successful targeted attack against that commander, Hamed Ahmed Al-Khodary, was the first targeted killing Israel has conducted since 2014. Targeted attacks had been suspended as an olive branch; in previous conflicts, Palestinian critics have called the attacks assassinations.
Three other Palestinians are believed to have been wounded in the attack on Al-Khodary. All told, officials in Gaza say 20 people, including eight civilians, have been killed throughout the weekend.
Who is responsible for some of those deaths is disputed.
For instance, officials in Gaza said that Palestinian civilians Falastine Abu Arar, a 37-year-old pregnant mother, and her 14-month-old niece Siba, were killed by Israeli forces Saturday. However, the IDF has denied this, claiming the woman and child died due to a misfiring of a Hamas rocket.
At least four Israeli citizens have been killed.
Workers at a factory in Ashkelon, an Israeli city about eight miles from the Gaza border, said two truck drivers were killed by rockets when they were unable to reach a shelter in time.
Also in Ashkelon, 58-year-old Moshe Agadi died of wounds caused by rocket fire. North of Ashkelon, in Ashdod, a 35-year-old man was killed when a rocket hit his car.
A fifth civilian, a 60-year-old man in the southern city of Sderot, may have also been killed by rockets; there are also some reports that an Israeli woman was critically wounded by anti-tank fire.
The weekend violence comes after a week of increasing tensions; a rocket was fired after Israel amended fishing rules in Gaza on Tuesday. Israeli officials said the rocket fell harmlessly into the Mediterranean Sea. Thursday, Israel launched an airstrike on a Hamas facility after it said the group sent explosives attached to balloons into Israel.
That air raid was responded to by more rockets from Hamas, which in turn led to exchanges of gunfire on the ground Friday that left two Israeli soldiers wounded. Two Palestinian protests were reportedly killed by Israeli security forces along the Gaza border Friday as well.
Egypt, which has helped mediate ceasefire talks between Israel and Hamas in the past, is working once again to lower tensions between the factions. The United Nations’ special coordinator for the Middle East peace process has also asked for calm, calling on all parties to “immediately deescalate and return to the understandings of the past few months.”
Hamas reportedly reached out through Egyptian mediators to request a ceasefire late Sunday; however, as this was first being reported, the IDF tweeted that a new barrage of rockets was being fired into Israel.