The IDF deployed Iron Dome missile defense batteries across central Israel and reinforced the batteries in the south of the country, the military announced Sunday evening.
The move, which also saw a limited reserve call-up to boost manpower in the Aerial Defense Division was made following a situational assessment, the IDF said.
The decision came amid heightened tensions in the south. On Sunday, the Israeli Air Force struck three cells of Palestinian terrorists who launched incendiary balloons towards Israel from the northern and central Gaza Strip.
Palestinian media reported that the strikes were carried out by drones, two near Beit Hanoun in the northern part of the Hamas-run coastal enclave which wounded three men and another near Deir al-Balah.
Six fires were caused by incendiary balloons in southern Israel on Sunday, and one emergency official told
that Sunday was the “quietest” day in terms of fires since March 30th.
According to Southern Command Chief Maj.-Gen. Herzl Halevi, the IDF has “developed various techniques for increasing our response. We are creating a state of affairs in which Hamas is paying a rising price for all the fires it is starting."
The strikes came a day after some 200 rockets and mortars were fired
from the Hamas-run enclave towards southern Israel on Saturday night with 40 of them intercepted by the Iron Dome Missile Defense System and another 73 landing in open territory.
Another 13 landed in communities bordering the Gaza Strip and another two hit the city of Sderot, injuring three residents who were transferred to hospital in light to moderate condition.
In response to the rocket fire Israel carried out several waves of airstrikes in the Gaza Strip on Saturday, dropping 50 tons of explosives on Hamas military targets as well as rocket launchers after the launch sites were identified.
Demolition of the Hamas Battalion HQ in Beit Lahia, Gaza, July 14th, 2018 (IDF Spokesperson's Unit)
According to a senior Air Force officer, the IDF has been preparing for an escalation in the south for several weeks and struck targets which had been chosen in advance.
"We attacked a range of targets, including some surprising ones, after weeks of preparing for this day,” he said, warning nonetheless that “this is not all of the power we can bring. We have a broad list of high-quality targets, and we are prepared to act day and night.”
The senior air force officer said their planes were instructed not to hit Hamas operatives, as well as civilians who are not involved in the launching of incendiary balloons and devices into Israel.
“We acted in a very precise manner, in the most crowded place in the world, without harming those uninvolved in the fighting,” he said.
"The other side is learning. They [Hamas] got used to Israeli jets attacking at night; and military compounds are in populated areas. While we want to destroy their infrastructure, we wanted to do that without hitting civilians or fighters which is more challenging when it happens during the daylight," the officer said.
“Our intelligence is very precise,” he continued. “If the other side remains quiet so will we. But if not, we are ready and we know what to do in order to return the quiet to the residents of the south.”
One Hamas training facility destroyed by an Israeli airstrike in Gaza on Saturday was known as the "Palestinian national library," the IDF said Sunday morning.
The “building which was once a civilian residential building became a terror building,” the senior Air Force officer said.
The largely abandoned building in the al-Shati refugee camp was located next to the Sheikh Zayed mosque which sustained light damage from the strike that killed two Palestinian teenagers identified by the Hamas-run Gaza health ministry as 15-year-old Amir al-Nimra and 16-year-old Louay Kahil.
Another 25 people were injured in the strike despite the IDF stating that it had warned residents in advance of the strike which was in response to repeated mortar and rocket barrages from the coastal enclave towards southern Israel communities.
According to the army, the building was targeted because it was being used by Hamas as an urban warfare training facility and had a tunnel underneath it for underground warfare training connected to a network of other Hamas tunnels in Gaza.
"Hamas continues using civilian infrastructure for military purposes, and in doing so endangers the civilians under its charge," the IDF said in a statement.
“The building’s five floors were supposed to be used for residents of the Strip, for public and government services or at least for housing. Instead, for the past few years, the large building has been used as a training facility for Hamas’s fighting battalions for urban warfare, exercises in conquering buildings and recently as a facility for surviving inside tunnels — thanks to an attack tunnel that was dug underneath the building,” the statement continued.