An unprecedented 80-rocket barrage hit Israel within the space of a few hour this evening, with 30 rockets being shot within 10 minutes:
Hamas fired over 30 rockets in a ten-minute period into Israel on Monday, with hits reported in Sha’ar HaNegev, the Eshkol Region, Netivot, Sderot, and Be’er Sheva between 8:00 – 8:10 pm IST.
The rocket count has escalated to over 80 on Monday evening alone, Walla! News reports close to 10:30 pm Monday; the Iron Dome missile defense system has shot down 12-13 of them over Ashdod and Netivot.
No buildings were reportedly damaged. An Askelon woman and her child are being treated for shrapnel injuries; several Ashdod residents were treated for shock.
“Code red” sirens have reportedly been sounded as of 8:30 pm as far as Tel Aviv and in Gush Etzion; rockets could be seen from as far away as Beit Shemesh, just west of Jerusalem, eyewitnesses told Arutz Sheva.
Magen David Adom (MDA) has raised the alert level as of Monday night throughout central Israel.
In addition, preschools, universities, and summer camps without bomb shelters in Ashkelon, Beit Shemesh, and Kiryat Malachi have been closed until the situation is quieted.
Ben Gurion University (BGU) and Sapir College in Be’er Sheva have both been closed until further notice.
At least 2,400 people were also evacuated from a summer camp near Kiryat Gat, out of security concerns and due to the ongoing rocket fire.
Apparently the Code Red alerts in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem were false alarms but not in Gush Etzion (where my daughter lives, and who was home alone terrified when the siren went off) nor in Bet Shemesh (Bet Shemesh! Central Israel!).
I just saw on the TV news that the Premature baby Unit of Soroka Hospital in Beer Sheva was being evacuated. And now I just found a short link to the report:
The premature babies in the Beersheba Soroka Medical Center are transferred to a ward that doubles as a bomb shelter ahead of further rocket attacks, Channel 10 reports.
The situation has now escalated to such an extent that the IDF are finally preparing for a serious response:
Government officials decided Monday to increase strikes against Hamas in Gaza and call up additional troops, as southern Israel braced for expanded rocket fire following the deaths of several terror operatives in Gaza overnight.
DF spokesman Lt. Col. Peter Lerner said the military had called up 1,500 reserves troops, mostly from the Home Front Command and Iron Dome air defense crews, and deployed two additional conscripted infantry brigades, Paratroops and Givati, to the border with the Palestinian enclave Monday. The army, Lerner said, was still in a defensive position but has shifted its readiness in order to address an escalation in the ongoing conflict with the Gaza Strip.Though ministers did not decide on a ground incursion or large scale operation, they warned one could be in the offing if rocket fire did not cease, Israeli media reported.
What do they mean by “if”? The rocket fire has not ceased – not since this round began, despite repeated Israeli warnings. At what point will they decide that it has reached critical mass?
The decision followed the death of some six Hamas members overnight, in what the military said was a “work accident,” when an explosive-laden tunnel that was hit in an Israeli airstrike several days earlier exploded.
Three other terror operatives were reported killed in other Israeli strikes.
On Monday afternoon, senior ministers in Israel’s security cabinet voted to instruct the IDF to increase air raids against targets in Gaza, following a meeting in Jerusalem.
Ministers warned that the increase in violence could bring rocket fire to the Gush Dan region of central Israel, news site NRG reported. The area, which includes the heavily populated cities of Tel Aviv and Rishon Lezion, last saw rocket fire in 2012 during Operation Pillar of Defense.
Residents in areas within 40 kilometers of Gaza, including Ashdod and Beersheba, were instructed not to hold any large gatherings and to stay near bomb shelters.
Egyptian efforts to broker a ceasefire have been scaled back, meanwhile, The Times of Israel was told.
Lerner said within the army there is now “a preparedness for escalation,” in contrast to last week when the IDF wished to convey a message of a defensive deployment.
The move to bolster troops outside Gaza and increase Israeli operations against the Strip came after several days of intense Palestinian rocket fire. The military said Monday afternoon that some 50 projectiles had been launched at Israel in the course of the day, adding to dozens shot the day before. The major barrage of 60 rockets, deeper into Israel, came later in the evening.
Most landed in open areas and several were shot down by the Iron Dome anti-missile system. Lerner said Hamas was behind most of the rocket fire in recent days.
Israeli planes have run almost nightly sorties against targets in Gaza and earlier this week forces hit a tunnel in Gaza that was about to be used for an attack against Israel, Lerner said.
Hamas operatives attempted to access that tunnel overnight Sunday, “and they meddled with their own explosives,” causing a detonation that led to their deaths, Lerner said.
“We understand that there is a potential of escalation” on account of the deaths, he said.
Military officials say about 200 rockets have been fired at southern Israel since the start of the operation.
Earlier Monday, a Hamas official said it would not agree to a ceasefire unless detainees arrested in the crackdown were released. The group also released a video calling on “settlers” in the southern Israeli town of Beersheba to “flee before it is too late.”
On Saturday night, Hamas warned it could hit any Israeli city with its missiles.
“We support Israel’s right to defend itself against these attacks,” State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki told reporters.
But the message, consistent with previous US responses after rocket barrages from either Lebanon or Gaza, was coupled with a strong urge of restraint against escalating the conflict.
The Obama administration fears a wider Israeli military campaign against Hamas in Gaza might destabilize political control in the Palestinian Authority, with riots in the West Bank reminding many of past intifadas.
I have yet to hear an explanation of how the support of Israel’s right to defend itself can be squared with urges of restraint. The two statements are contradictory and cannot both be fulfilled simultaneously.
Perhaps the time has finally come when Israel should demand restraint from the Americans in their drone-bombing campaign against Iraq and Afghanistan.