The IDF is prepared to continue carrying out strikes on Hamas and other terror groups in the Gaza Strip for several days, and has called up 7,000 reservists as rocket barrages continue pounding central and southern Israel.
Defense Minister Benny Gantz authorized the IDF on Thursday evening to call up another 9,000 reservists in accordance with operational needs.
The reservists would be drawn from combat units and command center operators, and will be deployed to Southern Command, Central Command and Northern Command so that soldiers regularly stationed there can be diverted to other missions.
Earlier in the day, the IDF called up artillery reservists, Iron Dome battery operators, doctors, paramedics, IAF, intelligence and other combat units. Another Iron Dome battery was also added to the ones already positioned around the country.
Combat troops will not be able to leave their bases, and additional ground troops have been redeployed to the border ahead of a possible ground operation, including from the Paratroopers’ Brigade, Golani Infantry Brigade and 7th Armored Brigade.
The announcement came shortly after the IDF said that some 160 rockets and mortar shells had been fired toward Israel since 7 a.m. on Thursday.
Dozens of rockets aimed at populated areas were intercepted by Iron Dome. Another 40 failed to make it across the border and landed inside the Strip.
On Thursday afternoon, dozens of long-range rockets were fired toward central Israel, including Tel Aviv, and as far south as Eilat. Several people were injured.
As many as 1,600 rockets have been fired at Israel since Monday, a third of which have fallen inside Gaza.
IDF Spokesman Brig.-Gen. Hidai Zilberman said that options remain on the table including a ground invasion. The plans were to be presented to IDF Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Aviv Kohavi and then to the cabinet for approval later on Thursday.
Col. Elad Goren, head of the civil department of the COGAT (the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories), accused Hamas of diverting for rocket use fuel earmarked for Gaza’s desalination plant that provides water to Gaza citizens.
“Now 250,000 in Beit Lahiya do not have water because of Hamas’s decision,” he explained in a briefing with reporters.
Hamas rockets intended for Israel fell short and took out three electricity lines, cutting off 250,000 people from electricity. The lines were among 10 provided by Israel to help increase Gaza’s electricity supply.
In addition, Gaza residents have only five hours of electricity per day, Goren said, down from 14 hours just last month, based on UN data.
Goren also clarified that the 17 Palestinians killed in Gaza on Tuesday was the result of failed Hamas rocket fire. He explained that they died before the IDF’s retaliatory strike.
The IDF Home Front Command has also extended its emergency restrictions until Saturday evening, limiting outdoor gatherings to 10 people and indoor gatherings to 100 people in southern and central Israel, including the Tel Aviv metropolitan area. Educational activities and businesses can only operate where a bomb shelter can be reached in time.
After a large barrage of rockets toward central and southern Israel on Thursday afternoon, Abu-Ubaida, spokesman for Hamas’ Izzadin al-Qassam Brigades, claimed that Hamas was launching rockets toward Ramon Airport with the Ayyash 250 rocket, which he claimed is a strong rocket with a range greater than 250 km.
He also claimed that Hamas had launched “massive rocket strikes” larger than any launched at Israel since the 1948 war.
“The decision to bomb Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, Dimona, Ashkelon, Ashdod, Beersheba and closer and further is easier for us than drinking water,” he boasted.
After the barrage, the Hevel Eilot Regional Council in the southern Negev said that a rocket had fallen in the area under its jurisdiction. No injuries or damage were reported.
The al-Qassam spokesman warned international airlines to immediately halt all flights to Israel.
Despite the continued rocket fire and threats, Ben-Gurion Airport will remain open for departing flights. All inbound flights have been rerouted to Ramon International Airport near Eilat, but many airlines canceled their flights on Thursday.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu informed the security cabinet on Wednesday night that Israel officially rejected a Hamas proposal for a ceasefire, and Kohavi spoke with General Mark Milley, chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, to update him on the operation.
Throughout the night, incoming rocket sirens sounded throughout the country across the Center and South of the country, as well as in northern Israel as far as the Galilee region, a rare occurrence. According to Zilberman, those sirens were false alarms.
Several rockets scored direct hits, including in Petah Tikva and Rishon Lezion, where a rocket fragment landed inside a home. No one was injured.
An IDF soldier was killed on Wednesday by an anti-tank missile, and a five-year-old boy was killed later in the day when a rocket hit the shelter room of his family’s apartment building in Sderot.
According to the military, the rocket that struck the shelter came in at a specific angle and speed when it exploded, and this caused fragments to pierce through the protective window and its protective steel plate shield.
Calling it a serious event, the military nonetheless urged Israelis to continue to seek shelter when a siren sounds, and to close the windows and lay low on the floor.
Palestinian media reported on Thursday that at least 87 people were killed in the IDF strikes, including 18 children, and that more than 530 have been wounded.
The IDF has said that more than half of those killed were members of terror groups involved in the fighting, and that some were killed by errant rockets misfired from Gaza that fell short of the border and landed inside the Strip, and not by Israeli strikes.
Abu-Ubaida dared Israel to “mobilize whatever forces you want from land, sea and air,” warning that the terrorist group has “prepared for you varieties of death. What distinguishes this battle is the solidarity of our people in all arenas, and their unanimity on the option of resistance.”
In a statement addressed to Arab-Israelis and Palestinians in the West Bank, Abu-Ubaida said that “our weapons are your weapons, our blood is your blood, and our fate is your fate.”
Also on Thursday, two schools belonging to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency were hit by airstrikes, the organization reported.
“On 11 and 12 May 2021, two [UNRWA] schools were hit within the context of airstrikes by Israel on Gaza, causing extensive damage to the compound’s western perimeter and to at least 29 classrooms.
“On 12 May 2021, the UNRWA headquarters building in Gaza was hit resulting in damages to the building’s perimeter wall. It is unclear whether the UNRWA building was hit directly or whether the strike was so close that the building suffered damage. All staff report to be safe and well,” UNRWA said.
It noted that all its buildings are clearly marked with an UNRWA flag.