Incoming rocket sirens continued to wail throughout southern Israel, including the city of Ashkelon, as projectiles continued to be launched from the Gaza Strip on Thursday as Israeli jets and tanks continued to pound the coastal enclave.
Some 200 mortars and rockets were fired towards southern Israeli communities since Wednesday evening by Hamas and other terror groups in the coastal enclave. The majority hit open fields and caused no damage but several landed in Gaza border communities, including the college city of Sderot. The Iron Dome missile defense system destroyed 25 of the rockets.
In retaliation the Israeli Air Force struck over 100 military sites in Gaza including training areas, production complexes, a factory used for producing materials used for building tunnels, a tunnel intended for maritime terrorism as well as other strategic Hamas targets on their military sites which held a variety of weapons, rockets as well as a military compound that serves as a central logistic warehouse.
The IDF Spokesperson's unit announced that Israel struck several underground targets belonging to Hamas following continued rocket fire towards southern Israel.
The IDF stated that it struck a military compound belonging to the Eastern Rafah Battalion, a shaft belonging to an attack tunnel in Jabalya as well as another two combat tunnels near the coast in the central Gaza Strip.
“This is a continuation of an effort to destroy the underground terrorist infrastructure that the IDF has been leading in recent years,” read the statement.
IDF aircraft fires towards a vehicle used by a Gazan rocket launching squad to launch a rocket at Israeli territory, August 8, 2018 (IDF Spokesperson's Unit)
The extensive attacks carried out by the IDF since Wednesday evening destroyed some 150 strategic and military sites, serving “a serious blow to the terrorist organization,” the statement continued.
The military stressed that the “IDF is prepared for a variety of scenarios and is determined to continue its mission to protect the citizens of Israel.”
"The Hamas terrorist organization continues to carry out acts of terror against Israeli citizens and the defense infrastructures that protect them, violates Israeli sovereignty and endangers the citizens of Israel and the security forces," the IDF statement read.
“The IDF is prepared for a variety of scenarios and is determined to fulfill its mission of defending the citizens of Israel,” the statement added.
The IAF also struck a vehicle in the northern Gaza Strip from which they claim had been used to launch rockets. One Hamas operative, identified as Ali al-Ghadnour, a relative of senior Hamas commander Abu Anas Ghandour who was designated by the US State Department as a Specially Designated Global Terrorist last year.
A pregnant Palestinian woman and her toddler were also reported by the Palestinian Health Ministry in the Gaza Strip of having been killed in the IAF retaliatory strikes. Enas Khammash, 23, and her 18-month daughter Bayan were killed in an airstrike in Jafarawi in central Gaza, and her husband was reported to be moderately injured.
The ministry reported another six other Palestinians were injured as a result of the IDF strikes.
In Israel, Barzilai Medical Center in Ashkelon said that it treated 23 injuries overnight from the rocket attacks, the majority from anxiety or orthopedic injuries.
One barrage that struck Sderot on Wednesday evening left three injured and eight others were treated for stress-related attacks including two pregnant women who went into labor.
On Thursday morning shrapnel from a projectile which struck Israel left one 30 year-old foreign worker from Thailand in critical condition. According to Professor Yochanan Pfizer, deputy director of Soroka Medical Center, said that the injured woman was suffering from shrapnel wounds to her stomach.
The IDF has said it intends to deploy additional Iron Dome batteries in southern Israel following assessments that Hamas might expand the range of rocket fire.
A senior IDF official asserted Thursday morning that the escalation in the south might lead to a broad campaign in Gaza which would the evacuation of communities along the border.
"We are closer to a wide scale operation in Gaza than we’ve ever been. We will send reinforcements to the south. If it becomes necessary, the residents of the Gaza border communities will be evacuated,” he said.
Due to the tensions the Home Front Command announced that farming in the fields in the south was prohibited as well as all summer day camps and other educational activities including at Sapir College which has cancelled all classes and exams.
Zikim beach was closed to the public and gatherings of over 300 people has also been prohibited as well as rail traffic between Ashkelon and Sderot has been halted. Public services will also be held in a limited format.
On Wednesday night Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman, IDF Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Gadi Eisenkot, the head of the Shin Bet and the head of the National Security Council met at the IDF Kirya Military Headquarters in Tel Aviv to discuss the situation in the south.
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