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Unprecedented barrage of rockets strike Israel

What happened: Israel is under a massive bombardment of hundreds of rockets emanating from the Gaza Strip.

  • Over the last 24 hours six Israelis were killed, with 46 hospitalised as a result of the rockets.
  • This morning a man was killed by an anti-tank missile on Kibbutz Netiv Ha’asara close to the Gaza border.
  • Yesterday, Ashkelon came under a heavy bombardment. Two women were killed in separate rocket attacks.
  • Overnight, Khalil Awad, aged 50, and his 16-year-old daughter Nadeen were killed when a missile hit their car between Lod and Ramle.
  • A 50-year-old woman was also killed in Rishon Lezion.
  • The rocket fire on central Israel briefly shut down Ben Gurion Airport. A spokesperson for the Israel Airports Authority said that take-offs and landings were temporarily stopped “to allow for the country’s skies to be defended”.
  • A rocket that directly struck a storage container along the Eilat-Ashkelon oil pipeline facility resulted in a large fire.
  • A civilian state of emergency was declared in the mixed Jewish-Arab city of Lod following rioting in the city. Three synagogues, several shops and dozens of cars were set on fire.

In response the IDF launched Operation Guardians of the Wall.

  • The Israeli Air Force has carried out over 500 strikes in Gaza. Targets have including the homes of Hamas leaders which served as terror infrastructure. Israel struck the homes of commander of the Gaza City brigade Bassem Issa, commander of the Khan Yunis brigade Rafa Salame, and Mohammed Yazouri, head of Hamas intelligence.
  • In a joint operation between the IDF and the Shin Bet, Israel killed Hassan Kaugi, head of the security department of the Hamas Intelligence Service, and his deputy, Wail Issa (Issa was the brother of Marwan Issa, deputy commander of Hamas military wing). According to Hamas, Israel has destroyed all police precincts in the Gaza Strip. Palestinian media reports that offices of the Hamas security apparatus in Gaza and government buildings have also suffered damage.
  • The IDF targeted a large tower block in the Rimal neighbourhood which served as headquarters for various Hamas units. As is custom, the IDF sent warnings to civilians to evacuate the building.
  • At least 35 people in Gaza have been killed, with 230 wounded. The vast majority of those killed are thought to be Hamas or Islamic Jihad operatives.
  • Defence Minister Benny Gantz said: “The IDF is guarding and protecting everyone, Jews and Arabs alike. I call on all citizens of Israel: now is the time to behave responsibly and to refrain from mutual violence. I am familiar with the Gazan theatre. The terror organisations were severely hurt and they will continue to get hurt because of their reckless decision to fire at the State of Israel’s territory. We will restore quiet and security, and we will do so for the long term.”
  • IDF Spokesperson Brig. Gen. Hidai Zilberman said: “An exceptionally large attack was carried out in the northern Gaza Strip area. A large group of some 80 planes bombed 150 targets, including 50-70 launching pits that Hamas installed in the ground. Eight of the planes were F-35s…The operative meaning of that attack is the complete neutralisation of three Hamas battalions’ rocket capabilities in the northern Gaza Strip, which have lost their firepower.”

Context: Judging by the level of damage caused in Israel, Hamas has reportedly deployed some new technology in their rockets. Some rockets were fired at a lower trajectory to avoid the Iron Dome missile defence system. In addition, more powerful explosives have been deployed, seemingly with the support from Iranian technology.

  • The IDF have outlined their objective in the current campaign: to prevent and disrupt rocket fire as much as possible; to deal a major blow to Hamas’s military wing, its members and infrastructure; and to deliver a major blow to Hamas’s weapons development.
  • The rocket attacks from Gaza began after days of ongoing tension in Jerusalem including clashes between police and rioters on the Temple Mount.
  • Tensions in Jerusalem have been rising since the start of the month of Ramadan when Palestinian rioters and Israel Police clashed several times at night and rose considerably after Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas announced in mid April that the Palestinian elections planned for the summer would be postponed.
  • A recent phenomenon of “tik tok attacks” where young Arabs have filmed attacks on ultra-Orthodox Jews and posted clips on social media raised Jewish ire. The now-delayed eviction of several Palestinian families in the Sheikh Jarrah neighbourhood in East Jerusalem also caused major protests.
  • Hamas has also stoked tensions in Jerusalem and the West Bank by trying to tap into and co-opt popular frustration regarding the postponement of Palestinian elections.
  • On 4 May, Hamas’ armed wing warned Israel that it would pay a “heavy price” if it were to evict families from Sheikh Jarrah.
  • Mohammed Deif, Hamas’ Chief of Staff, said “The Qassam Brigades will not stand idly by in the face of attacks on the Sheikh Jarrah neighbourhood.” Hamas also believed that, especially in light of Israel’s sensitive political crisis and post-election coalition building, it could control any escalation.
  • Similarly, Hamas Political Bureau Director Ismail Haniya celebrated the organisation’s policy by describing it as “victory in the war for Jerusalem” adding that “the Zionist occupation forced us to act against its actions in el-Aqsa Mosque” and that “Gaza responded to Jerusalem’s call.”
  • Despite the Israeli government taking specific steps to try and prevent the situation from escalating, the violence in Jerusalem resulted in rocket attacks from Gaza after Hamas issued an ultimatum to Israel on Sunday afternoon – that it must remove all forces from the Temple Mount and Sheikh Jarrah by 6pm – knowing that Israel would not obey it.

Looking ahead: So far Israel has rejected any calls for a ceasefire, the UN Security Council is expected to meet later today to discuss the crisis.

  • With concern that violence could spread to other Israeli-Arab communities, 16 additional companies of Border Police reservists will be called up.
  • About 1 million school children will not attend school or kindergartens in the south and centre today, and it is unclear how long these restrictions will remain in place.
  • The Home Front Command issued special guidelines for anyone living in southern Israel all the way north to the Herzliya area, prohibiting gatherings of more than 10 people.

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