Israel Launches ‘Wide-Scale Attack’ Against Hamas Targets in Gaza
The Israeli Air Force launched a “wide-scale attack” against Hamas military targets in Gaza on Friday, after an Israeli soldier died after being hit by gunfire from the coastal enclave, according to the Israeli military.
The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) said the shooting attack took place Friday during a Palestinian protest along the fence separating Gaza and Israel.
It’s the first Israeli soldier killed along the Gaza fence since the last war between Israel and Hamas in 2014, the army said.
The IDF responded first with tank and artillery fire, killing four people according to the Palestinian Ministry of Health.
Hamas said in a WhatsApp message to journalists that three of the four people killed were members of its armed Qassam Brigades.
In addition to the shooting incident, there were also multiple explosives thrown toward Israeli soldiers during the unrest, the IDF said.
Later Friday, the army said at least three rockets were fired toward Israel from Gaza. Two of the launches were intercepted by the Iron Dome aerial defense system, the military said. There are no reports of any casualties from the rocket fire.
In its most recent round of airstrikes, the Israeli military said it attacked dozens of military targets located in a Hamas battalion headquarters in Khan Yunis in the southern Gaza Strip. The IDF said it had “eliminated the battalion’s command and control capabilities, the battalion commander’s office, as well as unique aerial defense capabilities.” In addition, the air force said it targeted a drone warehouse, aerial defense systems, observation posts and a factory used for underground infrastructure manufacturing.
Nickolay Mladenov, the UN’s chief Middle East envoy, called on the two sides to step back from further escalation.
“Everyone in Gaza needs to step back from the brink. Not next week. Not tomorrow. Right NOW! Those who want to provoke Palestinians and Israelis into another war must not succeed,” he tweeted.
Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman told Mladenov in a phone conversation that if Hamas continues to fire rockets toward Israel, the response will be “much stronger” than they think.
“The responsibility for the destruction and the loss of life will be on Hamas,” Lieberman said.
Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum said in a statement: “Attack will be met with attack. Our people will continue until they get their rights and end the blockade, because they have the right to live freely.”
Tension along the fence has been simmering for months, at times erupting into violence. Recent weeks have also seen a sharp increase in arson attacks in Israel from balloons and kites launched from Gaza.
The violence has also stymied international attempts to alleviate conditions for the two million people living in Gaza.
Israel has maintained a land, sea and air blockade on the coastal enclave since June 2007, when Hamas took over Gaza.
The blockade effectively locks the more than 2 million Gaza residents inside the territory and is seen by the UN as a major contributor to the deterioration of living conditions there. Israel says it’s a necessary security measure.