Israel's security cabinet was scheduled to meet Sunday afternoon to discuss the continued operation in the Gaza Strip amid growing international pressure to begin working toward a ceasefire with Hamas.
On Saturday, senior defense officials were pushing Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Benny Gantz to start working toward a ceasefire that would bring an end to the IDF operation. This is based on an understanding that the military has met most of its goals since the beginning of the operation on Monday evening.
On Sunday, the United Nations Security Council is scheduled to hold an emergency meeting to discuss the ongoing conflict. The Biden administration's envoy arrived in Israel on Friday to begin talks aimed at finding a way to end hostilities that have seen over 2,000 rockets fired from Gaza into Israel.
Also on Sunday, European Commission vice president Josep Borrel Fontelles announced via Twitter that he is planning on convening EU foreign ministers on Tuesday to "discuss how the EU can best contribute and end the current violence."
Publicly, Netanyahu has warned Hamas that “it’s not over yet.”In view of the ongoing escalation between Israel and Palestine and the unacceptable number of civilian casualties, I am convening an extraordinary VTC of the EU Foreign Ministers on Tuesday. We will coordinate and discuss how the EU can best contribute to end the current violence— Josep Borrell Fontelles (@JosepBorrellF) May 16, 2021
IDF strikes at Hamas launch points (Credit: IDF).
"Fire will be met with fire," the prime minister said on Saturday night in a special video address just an hour before Hamas launched a heavy barrage of rockets that sent people in the South and Center of the country racing for shelter just past midnight.
He warned the Hamas leaders, "you cannot hide. Not above ground and not below ground. No one is immune.
"This [military] operation will continue as long as it takes until we achieve our goals and bring peace and security to all Israeli citizens," Netanyahu said.
IDF strikes Hamas underground network (Video credit: IDF).
US President Joe Biden called both Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas on Saturday. His envoy, US Deputy Assistant Secretary for Israel and Palestinian Affairs Hady Amr, landed in Israel on Friday to work to restore calm. Amr met with Gantz and other security officials on Sunday.
But defense officials have said that a continuation of the operation could end up leading to a mistake that would draw Israel into a wider conflict, including a ground offensive in the Gaza Strip that is currently not popular within the defense establishment. There is no American pressure on Israel to reach a ceasefire with Hamas, an Israeli official told Ynet Sunday, adding that there is no concrete ceasefire offer but that there are low-level talks.
Over the weekend, rockets continued to pound Israel as the IDF carried out large airstrikes in Gaza, hitting dozens of targets belonging to terror groups in the coastal enclave.
Among the targets, the IAF struck the homes of Hamas battalion commander Tisar Mabasher in Khan Yunis and of brigadier general Azi Tama'a in Deir al-Balah, whose homes were both used as military infrastructure. The damage made to these infrastructures will have damaged the military capabilities of Hamas operatives.
The IAF also struck rocket-launching sites, including the long-range launcher used to fire rockets on Jerusalem that began the latest escalation of violence on Monday. Other targets included a number of surface-to-surface missile launch sites, terror cells, a Hamas intelligence center, observation posts on land in and at sea off of the southern Gaza Strip, and anti-tank missile launch sites and cells.
Aircraft also struck the house of Hamas leader Yahya Sinwar and deputy leader of Hamas in Gaza Khalil al-Hayya; the operational office belonging to Hamas Head of Security Forces Tawfiq Abu Naim in Rimal, which was used as the military infrastructure command and control center; and two apartments belonging to Hamas naval force operatives Muhammed Abu Shala and Fares Abu Shukran that served as weapons storage warehouses.
In one strike on the Shati refugee camp, ten people including eight children were killed. The IDF said that the strike was against an apartment that “serves as terror infrastructure” for Hamas.
“The IDF takes precautions to minimize possible harm to civilians during its military activities,” the statement added.
Hamas later said it fired dozens of rockets towards Tel Aviv in response to "the massacre of women and children at the Shati refugee camp."
The IAF also struck a high-rise building in Gaza that housed several media outlets including Al Jazeera and the Associated Press on Saturday afternoon. The residents of the building, which also housed a number of apartments and other offices, were warned ahead of the strike to evacuate the building.
The IDF said that the building, which was hit by fighter jets, contained “military assets of the military intelligence” of Hamas.
“The building housed the offices of civilian media, which the terrorist organization Hamas hides behind and uses as human shields. The terror organization Hamas deliberately places its military assets in the heart of the civilian population in the Gaza Strip,” the IDF said in a statement, adding that “prior to the attack, the IDF warned the civilians who were in the building and gave them sufficient time to evacuate.”
AP President and CEO Gary Pruit called the strike "an incredibly disturbing development" and said a dozen AP journalists and freelancers had been in the building and had been evacuated in time.
"We are shocked and horrified that the Israeli military would target and destroy the building housing AP’s bureau and other news organizations in Gaza," he said in a statement.
"The world will know less about what is happening in Gaza because of what happened today."On Friday morning, Israel carried out one of the largest bombardments of Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad since the fighting started.
In a 40-minute-long air campaign which began around midnight, some 160 aircraft dropped about 450 missiles on 150 targets belonging to a network of tunnels dug by the terror group known as “the Metro” under Gaza city.
Speaking to reporters, IDF Spokesperson Brig.-Gen. Hidai Zilberman called the underground network a “strategic asset” to the group that used the kilometers of tunnels in northern Gaza to move weapons and fighters.
IDF aircraft destroy underground rocket launchpads, May 14, 2021.
The military is still working to determine the extent of the damage.
Israeli tanks, artillery cannons and troops from the Golani brigade stationed along the border also carried out barrages toward Hamas targets when they came out to attack Israeli targets. A total of some 500 artillery shells and another 50 tank shells were used.
IDF airstrikes hit two apartments which functioned as weapons depots, May 14, 2021. (Video Credit: IDF Spokesperson)
During the strikes, the military ordered anyone living within four kilometers of the Gaza border to remain in a bomb shelter out of concern that Hamas might fire short-range missiles or anti-tank guided missiles during the bombardment overnight. Five and half hours later the IDF removed the order, and said that people should stay in close proximity to a shelter should an attack happen.
IDF aircraft attack operational office of the head of Hamas security forces in Ramel, which served as a military infrastructure facility, May 14, 2021 (Video Credit: IDF)