After 6 hours of attacks on southern, central Israel by PIJ in response to killing of terror chief, army launches air campaign targeting terror tunnel, naval commando compound.
The Israel Defense Forces on Tuesday afternoon launched a campaign of retaliatory airstrikes against the Palestinian Islamic Jihad terror group in the Gaza Strip following approximately six hours of unanswered rocket attacks on central and southern Israel from the enclave.
The military said its airstrikes targeted Palestinian Islamic Jihad underground facilities and training camps. The IDF said these underground facilities were used “for storage and manufacturing of weapons.”
These sites are seen as critical facilities, which PIJ has invested large sums of money to construct.
In a second round of airstrikes around 4 p.m., the army said it struck “training compounds, including one used by PIJ’s naval commando unit, the shaft of an offensive terror tunnel in the northern Gaza Strip and a tunnel digging site in the central Gaza Strip.”
In the predawn hours of Tuesday morning, Israeli Air Force jets fired precision ammunition at a building in the Shejaiya area of Gaza City where PIJ senior terror chief Baha Abu al-Ata was located, assassinating him and killing his wife, in a joint operation by the IDF and Shin Bet security service.
Shortly after Abu al-Ata’s assassination, the PIJ began launching dozens of short- and long-range rockets, firing the majority of them at the Israeli communities around Gaza and a smaller number at major cities in central Israel throughout the morning.
Conricus said the IDF asked for permission from Netanyahu, who serves as both prime and defense minister, as well as the security cabinet to carry out the assassination operation over a week ago and was waiting for the right time to act.
“Over the last week, we have been waiting for the opportune moment to conduct the surgical strike,” he said.
The army spokesman said the military saw its chance on Tuesday morning when Abu al-Ata was relatively isolated and the risk to Gazan civilians was less.
“The missiles were fired from fighter jets with the intention of not bringing down the entire building, but just the floor where he was located,” Conricus said.
One man was lightly injured by a rocket attack that struck a highway near the town of Gan Yavne, and an 8-year-old girl was in serious condition after she collapsed suddenly while hiding in a bomb shelter during a rocket attack on the city of Holon. It was not immediately clear if her injury was caused by the rocket attack. In addition, several people were hospitalized with light injuries that occurred as they ran to bomb shelters.
Israel largely refrained from retaliating for the first six hours of the rocket attacks, during which an estimated 150 projectiles were fired from Gaza, with the exception of one airstrike on Tuesday morning against two PIJ members whom the IDF said were preparing to launch projectiles at Israel. At least one of them was killed and the other was injured in the strike, according to the Hamas-run Gaza health ministry.
Five Palestinians were killed in Israeli strikes, including Abu al-Ata, and 30 others were injured, the health ministry added.
Approximately 60 incoming rockets were shot down by the Iron Dome missile defense system, according to unofficial tallies that were not immediately confirmed by the IDF.
The military said it was preparing for several days of fighting with terror groups in the Gaza Strip.
On Tuesday morning, the IDF Home Front Command ordered all schools and non-essential businesses closed in the following areas: the Gaza periphery; the Lachish region; the western Negev; the central Negev; and the Shfela region. The IDF also forbade gatherings of more than 100 people there.
Schools were also closed in the Dan region, including Tel Aviv, and in the Yarkon region. Businesses were temporarily ordered shut there as well, but were allowed to reopen on Tuesday morning, providing there was a bomb shelter nearby, the military said. In the Dan and Yarkon regions, the IDF forbade all public gatherings of more than 300 people.
It was the first time that the IDF ordered a closure of schools and businesses in the Tel Aviv metropolitan area since the 2014 Gaza war, known in Israel as Operation Protective Edge. Over a million Israeli students did not attend classes.
Ben Gurion Airport operated as usual. The Ben Gurion International Airport was not affected by the closures, though some flight paths appeared to have been changed. “Ben Gurion Airport is working as usual with no changes to the flight schedule,” a spokesman for the Israeli Airports Authority said.
Though there have been relatively few injuries caused by the rocket attacks, several projectiles have caused damage to homes and roads in southern Israel.
A rocket struck a factory in the town of Sderot, northeast of Gaza, causing a large fire that threatened to collapse the building, the local fire department said.
Another rocket hit a home in the southern town of Netivot, causing a large amount of damage, police said. One also hit the roof of a home in the Eshkol region of southern Israel while the family was taking cover in the bomb shelter. There were no injuries.
A rocket struck the Route 4 highway near the Gan Yavne Junction, lightly injuring a man and causing significant damage to the road and several cars. Police sappers were called to the scene to remove the projectile.
Several rockets also struck elsewhere in the town of Sderot, northeast of the Gaza Strip, causing light property damage; one hit the city of Ashdod, damaging a car; and one struck a street in the central Israeli city of Rishon Lezion.
A mortar shell fired from the Gaza Strip landed in an open field in the Sha’ar Hanegev region of southern Israel, sparking a fire, a regional spokesperson said.
Hospitals and other emergency services were put on high alert in light of the ongoing rocket attacks.