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Southern Israel under heavy assault, as IDF targets underground network

What happened: Heavy rocket fire out of the Gaza Strip continued throughout the night. Between 7pm and 7am 190 rockets were fired towards Israel, 30 of them landed inside the Gaza Strip.

  • Dozens of rockets were fired on Ashkelon for a long time in an attempt to overpower the Iron Dome’s defensive capabilities. Hamas said that its operatives had fired approximately 100 rockets one after another. Sirens were heard almost continuously through the night in the southern Israel.
  • Hamas announced they have a new missile, called the ‘Ayyash-250’, which was fired toward Ramon Airport in the south of the country but landed in an open area. Hamas claims the missile has a range of 250km and that it can reach any part of Israel.
  • An 87-year-old woman was killed in Moshav Shtulim near Ashdod when she fell and hit her head while moving to a protected space. Overall, there have been eight fatalities on the Israeli side, including one soldier. According to Hamas’s Health Ministry 109 people have died in Gaza, of whom over 40 have been women and children. The majority are thought to be Hamas or Palestinian Islamic Jihad operatives.
  • In response to the rocket barrage the IDF has continued to execute an intense bombing campaign. 160 fighter jets attacked around 150 separate targets. One of key targets was the network of underground tunnels, considered a strategic asset by Hamas. Several kilometres of tunnels were destroyed according to the IDF.
  • Yesterday, the IDF targeted seven Hamas anti-tank squads close to the border.
  • The IDF also took down at least three drones launched from the Gaza Strip, some of which were rigged with explosives.
  • In addition, the Air Force continued to target the apartments of senior commanders and missile manufacturing sites.
  • There were mistaken reports of an IDF ground incursion, but these were confirmed to be untrue.
  • 7,000 reservists have been called up, with Defence Minister Benny  Gantz approving a further 9,000 if the army requires them.
  • In the north, three rockets were fired from Lebanon into the sea and at the shores of the western Galilee last night. No one was injured and no damage was caused. A defence official in Lebanon said that he believed Palestinian organisations were behind the rocket fire, not Hezbollah.

Inside Israel: There has been continued unrest in numerous cities across the country last night.

  • A 19-year-old IDF soldier sustained serious injuries after being assaulted with stones and pepper spray in Jaffa last night.
  • Another 19-year-old ambulance medic suffered a gunshot wound in Lod. Border Police arrested 43 suspects overnight in Lod.  The riots included throwing rocks and Molotov cocktails at security forces, several shootings, arson of synagogues and other public places.
  • A reporter and cameraman for Kan News were assaulted in the Hatikva neighbourhood of Tel Aviv. The two assailants were arrested.
  • Eight people suspected of throwing stones and disturbing the peace were taken into custody in Haifa.
  • Rioters burned down a police station in the Arab city of Qalansuwa.
  • Poriya Hospital in Tiberias reported that the emergency room had admitted six people who had been injured in disturbances and riots in the area last night. All of the patients are in light condition.
  • In response to the rioting, in a show of unity thousands of Arab and Jews gathered in numerous locations across the country under the banner ‘Arabs and Jews refuse to be enemies.’

Context: In total over 2,000 rockets have been fired towards Israel over the last three days. According to the IDF “500 of those rockets, fired from densely populated areas, misfired, landing in Gaza and killing Palestinian civilians and destroying homes.”

  • The IDF described the tunnels as an “underground city” that was central asset of Hamas, with a vast array of tunnels connected various Hamas command and control centres. It cost the Hamas millions of dollars to build and according to the IDF has been dealt significant strategic damage.
  • The rocket fire from the north raised the prospect of Hezbollah opening a second front against Israel, however at this point it was thought to have been fired by a Hamas affiliated group. The UNIFIL Commander Del Col is holding talks with Israel and Lebanon and called on them to exercise maximum restraint and to cooperate with the UN to avert a further escalation in violence.
  • International efforts are under way to try and reach a ceasefire between Hamas and Israel. Earlier in the week, Israel reportedly rejected a ceasefire with Hamas mediated by Egypt and Russia. Hamas hoped Israel would agree to a ceasefire after it fired toward Israel’s capital and the centre of the country. The Israeli government, however, is refusing to enter into negotiations until more significant military objectives are achieved to restore deterrence along the Gaza border.
  • Hamas’s leadership has also reached out to facilitators in Qatar in an effort to find brokers that are willing to facilitate an end to the current escalation. So far, Qatar has not been able to establish links with Israel. Instead, they have tried to work via the US to convey Hamas’ readiness to negotiation with Israel.
  • Israeli military commentators say the IDF has intensified its attacks overnight in the understanding that international pressure will soon intensify for it to agree to a ceasefire, and it wants to increase its operation’s goals before an end to the escalation.
  • Hamas has already achieved its objectives by posing as the protectors of Jerusalem and Al Aqsa Mosque. At the same time, Hamas has shown that while the Arab world is preoccupied with other interests and less involved in the Palestinian issue, it is still prepared to enter military fights against Israel.

Looking forward: Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said that Israel had exacted a very high price from Hamas and would continue to do so with great force. He said: “The final word has not been said and this operation will continue as long as necessary in order to restore calm and security to the State of Israel.”

  • The UN Security Council will convene a 3pm (UK time) on Sunday. China had proposed a resolution to condemn Israel, but the draft was blocked by the US.

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