(photo credit: )
After three days of bombardment by the IAF, Hamas proved on Monday that it was still capable of firing barrages of Kassams and rockets on the South. Over 70 rockets and mortars fell throughout the Western Negev, killing three people.
On Monday evening, Hamas intensified their efforts, firing on Ashdod, Ofakim, Yavne and the rest of the region. Rockets killed an Ashdod woman at a bus stop and a person near Nahal Oz.
Five other people were also wounded, two seriously when the Kassam rocket struck near Nahal Oz. Four people were wounded - one seriously and three lightly - by the rocket that hit the Ashdod bus stop.
Earlier in the day, an Israeli construction worker identified as Hani al-Mahdi, 27, of the Beduin town of Aro'er in the Negev, was killed and over a dozen others were wounded when a Grad-model Katyusha hit a construction site in Ashkelon.
As the aerial bombardment of the Gaza Strip ended its third day on Monday, the IDF was making final preparations for a penetrating ground operation into the territory.
Tanks, armored personnel carriers, artillery batteries and soldiers from several infantry units massed along Gaza's border ahead of the operation, which defense officials said would likely be limited in time.
At a security assessment held at the Defense Ministry, Defense Minister Ehud Barak said that the operation would intensify if the rocket attacks did not stop.
"If Hamas does not immediately stop the criminal and intentional firing of rockets, Israel will use all the legal resources and courses of action at its disposal to force the enemy to stop its aggressive and illegal action," Barak said.
Defense officials said that the ground operation, if launched, would penetrate deep into Gaza with the aim of dealing a strategic blow to Hamas. Barak, the officials said, declared during the assessment that he did not want to utilize all of the forces at the IDF's disposal since it would create "static targets" for Hamas.
"We will hit them where they least expect it," one official said, adding that the artillery batteries deployed along the border would likely be used in the event of a ground operation. "We will need to constantly be moving on the ground to maintain the element of surprise."
The IDF on Monday morning declared the area of the Negev along the Gaza border a closed military zone, denying entrance to all but local residents.
Throughout the day, the IDF struck at over 30 Hamas targets scattered across the Gaza Strip as the death toll in Gaza climbed to close to 350, according to Palestinian sources.
One target bombed was a tunnel being dug in the southern Gaza Strip and across the border into Israel. The tunnel was packed with explosives and at least three Palestinians were believed to have been killed inside it by the strike.
A senior Islamic Jihad terrorist, Ziad Abu Tir, was killed in an air strike. Abu Tir was behind a series of terrorist attacks against Israel in recent years, defense officials said.
In addition, the IDF bombed the home of the commander of the Hamas rocket-firing forces. It was unclear whether the terrorist was killed in the strike, but officials said that there were secondary explosions after a weapons storehouse in the building was destroyed.
Later in the day, five people were killed when an IAF aircraft targeted a car. Palestinian sources reported that 14 people were killed in air strikes Monday evening.
The air force also struck a truck carrying Grad-model Katyusha missiles, setting off a series of secondary explosions, the IDF said.
The IDF added that Hamas was transferring the missiles to a hideout, fearing that their location had been compromised. The transfer was also likely intended to bring the rockets closer to areas from which they could be launched at Israel.
The IDF rejected reports that Hamas was evacuating the Shifa Hospital in Gaza after being warned by Israel that it would be bombed by the IAF. The IDF Spokesman released a statement calling the report a Hamas manipulation and an indication that it was under pressure.
Meanwhile, Hamas said that two members of its armed wing were killed as the IAF struck facilities belonging to the group in southern Gaza. Al-Jazeera reported that the navy also participated in the operation, shelling Hamas targets.
Other targets hit Monday afternoon included ammunition stocks, Hamas military infrastructure and tunnels in Gaza City and northern Gaza. Early Monday morning, in what was described as a strategic blow to the Hamas military wing, the IAF bombed two research-and-development laboratories used by Hamas that were located on the Islamic University campus in Gaza City.
Other targets included a guest palace used by the Hamas government, and the house next to Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh's home in a refugee camp next to Gaza City. He was not home, as Hamas leaders have gone into hiding.
One of the strikes against field operatives hit a house in the Jabaliya refugee camp, killing seven people, but the Hamas activist being targeted was not there.
Another strike hit the Jabaliya home of Abdel-Karim Jaber, a Hamas political figure. Jaber, a senior administrator at the Islamic University, was not at home at the time and it wasn't immediately clear if anyone was hurt in the strike.
Earlier in the day, speaking at the Knesset, Barak said that Israel would expand its military operation in the Gaza Strip until all its goals were achieved. Barak added that the IDF was targeting Hamas leadership and its allies in Gaza, asserting that the operation would be "all-out war."
"This operation will be extended and deepened as we find necessary," Barak said. "Our goal is to strike Hamas and stop the attacks on Israel.
"Hamas controls Gaza and is responsible for everything happening there and for all attacks carried out from within the Strip. The goals of this operation are to stop Hamas from attacking our citizens and soldiers."
Also last night, an Israeli was lightly wounded when he was stabbed in the neck by a Palestinian, near Kedumim in the West Bank.
Gil Hoffman and AP contributed to this report
Join Jerusalem Post Premium Plus now for just $5 and upgrade your experience with an ads-free website and exclusive content. Click here>>