Israel launches ‘harshest blow’ against Hamas since 2014

The Israeli military launched its “harshest blow” against Hamas in Gaza since the 2014 war after militants fired dozens of rockets into Israel throughout the day, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Sunday.

A ball of fire is seen after an Israeli air strike in Rafah in the southern Gaza, on Saturday. Israeli air strikes attacked several targets in the Gaza Strip after attacks by the militants, the Israeli military said. Photo by Ismael Mohamad/UPI | License Photo
A ball of fire is seen after an Israeli air strike in Rafah in the southern Gaza, on Saturday. Israeli air strikes attacked several targets in the Gaza Strip after attacks by the militants, the Israeli military said. Photo by Ismael Mohamad/UPI | License Photo

Over the sabbath Saturday, Netanyahu posted on Twitter “we hit Hamas in a significant way and hard. Our policy is clear: Whoever hurts us, we will hit them with great strength. This is what we did yesterday.”‘

He also said the Israeli Defense Forces “dealt Hamas the harshest blow since Operation Protective Edge. I hope that they got the message; if not, they will get it later.”

Operation Protective Edge, also known as the 2014 Israel-Gaza conflict, followed the kidnapping and murder of three Israeli teenagers by Hamas members.

Hamas and another militant faction, Islamic Jihad, said a ceasefire agreement was reached with Israel. Islamic Jihad spokesman Daoud Shihab told CNN on Saturday: “There have been great efforts … to bring back calm to Gaza. We have agreed to the Egyptian efforts and agreed to the calm and ceasefire as of 8 p.m. local time, if the Occupation commits to stopping its aggression.” It used “Occupation” to refer to Israel.

Egyptian mediation helped broke a ceasefire, the Jihad spokesman said.

Netanyahu, speaking before his weekly Cabinet meeting Sunday, denied Israel agreed to a ceasefire.

“I heard it being said that Israel has agreed to a ceasefire that would allow the continuation of terrorism by incendiary kites and balloons; this is incorrect,” Netanyahu said. “We are not prepared to accept any attacks against us and we will respond appropriately.”

On Sunday, the IDF released detailed information on a five-story building it destroyed in a retaliatory airstrikes in the Gaza Strip the previous day.

Hamas had launched repeated mortar and rocket attacks from the coastal enclave in southern Israel.

The army said the building was being used as a training facility atop a tunnel that fed into a “massive” underground network.

“The building’s five floors were supposed to be used for residents of the Strip, for public and government services or at least for housing. Instead, for the past few years, the large building has been used as a training facility for Hamas’s fighting battalions for urban warfare, exercises in conquering buildings and recently as a facility for surviving inside tunnels — thank to an attack tunnel that was dug underneath the building,” the army said in a statement.

The IDF distributed another aerial target of a Hamas battalion headquarters in the city of Beit Lahiya, also in northern Gaza. The military said the compound include training ground, a weapons manufacturing and storage facility, two commanders’ offices and a logistics shed.

The military said Hamas launched 174 rockets and mortar shells from Gaza, starting at 1:30 a.m. Saturday. More than 100 landed in open fields. And more than 30 were intercepted by the Iron Dome missile defense system. Others landed within the communities’ fences in southern Israel.

In response, the IDF said it hit dozens of targets. The IDF also destroyed two border-crossing attack tunnels, Hamas naval facilities and dozens of other military compounds.

The Hamas-run Gaza health ministry said two Palestinians teenagers were killed in the Israeli strike on the building in Shati and 25 hurt by shrapnel.

The aim of its airstrikes was to “restore a sense of security” and the military would “respond as necessary” to other attacks, an IDF spokesman said.

By Allen Cone