Israeli air strikes targeting rocket-launching crews killed two terrorists in the Gaza Strip on Monday as Palestinian rocket squads barraged southern Israel, in escalating fighting that has defied international truce efforts.
The cross-border violence, touched off by Israel’s killing of Popular Resistance Committees Secretary-General Zuhair al-Kaisi on Friday, has been the worst exchange of fire between Israel and the Hamas-ruled territory in months. The fighting has killed 21 Gazans, including 18 terrorists, seriously wounded two Israelis, and disrupted the lives of one million Israelis living in Gaza rocket range.
The Israel Defense Forces said it carried out eight attacks against rocket-launching sites and a weapons storage facility Sunday overnight and early Monday. Islamic Jihad said in a statement that one terrorist was killed while on a rocket-launching mission and that another was killed in a separate air attack while riding on a motorcycle.
On Monday, OC Homefront Command Maj. Gen. Eyal Eisenberg estimated that the fighting in the south would last a few more days. In a conversation with Asheklon's mayor Benny Vaknin on Monday, Eisenberg sounded a stern warning to Palestinian terrorists in Gaza. "If it's not quite in Ashkelon, it won't be quiet in Gaza," Eisenberg said.
Three other terrorists were wounded in that raid, two of them critically, Gaza health official Adham Abu Salmia said. Army Radio reported that 19 rockets were fired into southern Israel on Monday. Three of the rockets were Grads fired toward Beersheba. Two of them exploded in open areas, and the third was intercepted by the Iron Dome system. A total of at least seven rockets were intercepted by Iron Dome on Monday morning. Schools in the area were closed for a second day to avoid casualties; a day earlier, a rocket struck the courtyard of one of the empty schools.
Hamas sources have said some of the IAF air strikes throughout the night on Sunday and early Monday hit bunkers containing arms belonging to the Islamic Jihad, including missiles with a 70-kilometer range that were smuggled into Gaza from Libya.
On Monday morning, Palestinian health officials said continuous IAF air strikes in northwest Gaza killed a 15-year-old boy, according to Israel Radio. Earlier in the day, Hamas emergency services sources reported that two of the IAF’s air strikes hit the Jabalyia refugee camp and injured at least 35 people, including several children. The Islamic Jihad said the attacks were an attempt to kill the commander of the organization’s rocket unit, but it failed, Army Radio reported.
IDF Spokesperson Brig. Gen. Yoav (Poly) Mordechai told Army Radio the IAF struck a weapons storage facility that was located on the ground floor of a residential apartment building. “We did not know ahead of time that civilians may be harmed in the attack,” Mordechai said. “It just demonstrates how big the impact of the weapons stored in the facility was.”
Medical officials in Gaza said that since Sunday night, IAF attacks have wounded 43 Palestinians.
On Sunday morning, 12-year-old Ayoub Assalya was killed in an Israeli air strike on a terrorist squad in Jabalyia as they were preparing to launch rockets at Israel. According to Palestinian reports, Assalya was on his way to school with his 7-year-old cousin, who was critically wounded in the air strike and was hospitalized in the northern Gaza Strip. Ten additional people were wounded in the Israeli strikes, according to reports, and 20 Palestinians were wounded in total during attacks on Sunday.
The military have said the air attacks came in response to continued rocket fire.
Hamas sources said on Sunday that a senior-level Hamas delegation led by Musa Abu Marzouk and Mahmoud al-Zahar arrived in Cairo to meet with Egyptian intelligence officials over the possibility of reaching a cease-fire in Gaza, and that discussions were continuing on Monday with Egyptian intelligence chief Gen. Murad Muwafi.
Against the backdrop of the discussions in Cairo, the Popular Resistance Committees and Islamic Jihad announced on Sunday that they are refusing to stop launching rockets at Israel and said they would even expand the rocket fire.
Meanwhile, Hamas has denied comments made by PRC officials that all Palestinian factions operating in Gaza, including Hamas, took a joint stance on Kaisi’s assassination.
Hamas military wing spokesman Abu Obeida said on Sunday that it was impossible to implement a cease-fire in Gaza in the absence of a consensus among all the factions in the area. However, he stressed that Hamas has not participated in the current round of fighting and that his group does not have a joint operations room with the other organizations who have fired rockets into Israel.