The IDF struck Hamas military infrastructure on Sunday morning in response to rocket fire launched toward Ashkelon, the second time in two weeks.
The strikes, carried out by Israel Air Force jets and attack helicopters, targeted Hamas military sites including “two rocket manufacturing sites, underground infrastructure and a training facility for the Hamas terror group’s naval force,” the IDF said.
The army said it holds Hamas responsible for the rocket fire and it “will bear the consequences” for the rocket fire. Israel takes “all terror activity against Israel very seriously and is prepared and willing to act as resolutely as necessary against attempts to harm Israeli citizens and its sovereignty.”
Late on Saturday, a rocket was fired toward Ashkelon, sending thousands into shelters. No group claimed responsibility for the rocket fire.
During a video conference with the heads of the Gaza border communities along with Finance Minister Israel Katz and Interior Minister Arye Deri, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the government would continue to support the residents of the area.
Netanyahu noted that despite the continued rocket fire, people continue to move to the area.
“People want to come… I think that says it all,” he said. “Our aggressive security policy – as expressed only yesterday, in response to any harm directed at us – along with strengthening civil resilience in the region, are the real answer to terror organizations. They come to uproot, we come to stay.”
Defense Minister Benny Gantz warned that Hamas was walking a thin line, and should rocket fire continue there are many military options.
“The IDF carried out a large and powerful retaliation tonight,” he said. “There will be no coronavirus discounts in this matter. We live with a very wide range of operational plans to protect the people of the South and if these violations of sovereignty continue, Hamas and the people of Gaza will meet these plans soon and I strongly advise them not to do so.”
Shortly after the rocket fire, an IDF tank fired a shell toward a Hamas outpost without permission. The incident is being investigated by the military.
The military is also investigating why the Iron Dome missile defense system, which damaged a factory in the industrial part of the city, did not intercept the rocket as well as the rockets fired toward central Israel last week.
Last Sunday two rockets were fired around 2 a.m., activating incoming rocket sirens in Ashdod and in communities in the Shfela region of the center of the country, including Kibbutz Palmahim, some 60km. from the Gaza Strip, sending thousands to shelters.
The rocket fire came as a thunderstorm battered the area, and the IDF said it believes the Hamas rockets were fired after a lightning bolt hit an electrical panel that was connected to an underground launcher in a field near the neighborhood of Shejaia.
The incident was similar to another in 2018 when a home in Beersheba was hit by a projectile and was significantly damaged.
Also on Sunday, the IDF began a surprise command exercise to improve the capabilities and readiness of the Southern Command for combat scenarios in the Gaza Strip.
The military said the drill, which includes both regular and reserve troops, was planned in advance and will finish by Wednesday. As part of the exercise, the military said there would be a high amount of movement of security forces, vehicles and aircraft in the Gaza border area.
During the exercise, the division’s readiness for a multi-dimensional defense in the face of a variety of scenarios will be examined.
This is the fifth such inspection by Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Aviv Kochavi, which has been held every few months to ensure the armed forces’ preparedness.
Due to having been in contact with a known coronavirus patient, the quarantined chief of staff will observe the drill remotely. Deputy Chief of Staff Maj.-Gen. Eyal Zamir will be on the ground in his place.