It was the largest salvo fired from the Gaza Strip, and the harshest Israeli response, since Operation Protective Edge in 2014.
It began with three rounds of 28 mortar shells each fired at southern Israel at 7 a.m., with at least two exploding inside communities in the Eshkol region, including one that struck the yard of a kindergarten shortly before children were due to arrive.
Several more projectiles were launched from the Gaza Strip a few hours later, with parts of one rocket landing near a school in Sderot.Politicians called for a strong response
, and the IDF did not hold back. By noon, the IDF had struck more than 35 targets across the Gaza Strip.
Thousands of Palestinians have been demonstrating along the security barrier with Israel since March 30. Despite at least 119 Gazans killed by Israeli fire and thousands of others wounded, Hamas and other groups have refrained from firing any rockets or mortars.
By Tuesday evening, close to 50 projectiles were launched at Israel, including several Iranian- made rockets.
Before the salvos, fewer than 10 projectiles had been fired from the Hamas-run Strip into Israel in 2018. There were 31 last year, mainly during December after President Donald Trump recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and announced his intention to move the US Embassy from Tel Aviv. About 15 were fired at Israel in 2016, and 21 were launched in 2015.
While Israel holds Hamas responsible for everything that occurs in the Strip, including most of the rockets that have been fired since the end of Operation Protective Edge, the IDF struck dozens of Islamic Jihad targets on Tuesday.
So what’s changed?
While Hamas has been trying to contain groups in the coastal enclave, Israeli officials have accused Iran of growing involvement. According to IDF Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Gadi Eisenkot, Iran has increased its support for Hamas and Islamic Jihad in the last few months to $100 million, to have greater influence in Gaza.
On Sunday, three Hamas members were killed when IDF tanks struck an observation post in the southern Gaza Strip after an explosive device hidden in bolt cutters was placed on the security fence with Israel.
Since then, Israel has been bracing for a response from the Iranian-funded terrorist group, which last November fired a barrage of mortar shells at an IDF post and a cement factory on the northeastern edge of the Gaza Strip where construction crews are working on Israel’s new underground barrier.
The mortar barrage came a month after the IDF destroyed one of the group’s cross-border attack tunnels, killing 14 terrorists. Following the destruction of the tunnel, the IDF upped its alert level along the border and deployed Iron Dome batteries across the center of the country.
While the escalation in the south is the worst since 2014, the IDF has still not deployed Iron Dome batteries across the country. But this is the Middle East. Nothing is ever certain.
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