Some 160 aircraft flying simultaneously conducted a massive attack on a network of tunnels dug by the Hamas terror group under the northern Gaza Strip around midnight Thursday in the largest Israeli strike since the outbreak of fighting earlier this week, the military said Friday.
According to the Israel Defense Forces, in this air campaign, which lasted nearly 40 minutes, some 450 missiles were dropped on 150 targets in northern Gaza, particularly around the city of Beit Lahiya.
The military said it was still working to determine the extent of the damage caused to the underground infrastructure, which IDF Spokesperson Hidai Zilberman told reporters was a “strategic asset” to Hamas, and the number of terrorist operatives killed in the strikes.
In addition to the aerial assault, Israeli tanks, artillery cannons and infantrymen on the Gaza border conducted accompanying barrages at Hamas operatives — specifically anti-tank guided missiles and rocket-launching teams — who came out during the assault to conduct attacks on Israeli targets, Zilberman said.
He clarified that the ground troops remained on Israel’s side of the border and did not enter the Gaza Strip, despite earlier claims to the contrary by the IDF, causing incorrect reports of a ground invasion to spread through leading news outlets around the world. The spokesman said the military was investigating what caused the “miscommunication.”
In total, some 500 artillery shells — some flares and some explosive — along with 50 tank shells were fired during this subsequent bombardment.
Palestinians in Gaza reported that the Israeli strike lasted over an hour and caused a number of casualties, though an exact tally was not immediately available.
The Hamas-run Gaza health ministry on Friday morning raised its total death toll to 115 Palestinians, 27 of whom it said were children.
These updated figures did not appear to include all those killed in the IDF’s midnight attack. Israel maintains that most of those killed in Gaza were terror group members or, in a few cases, died from errant Palestinian rockets, including several of the children.
Shortly after the start of the assault, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu vowed to exact a “very heavy price” from Hamas, the Gaza-ruling terror group which has fired upwards of roughly 2,000 projectiles at Israel since Monday afternoon, killing nine people, including a 5-year-old boy hit by a rocket fragment in Sderot, an 87-year-old woman who suffered a head injury while running to a bomb shelter, a 50-year-old woman who fell while rushing to a bomb shelter on Tuesday and was pronounced dead Friday, and a soldier hit by an anti-tank guided missile on the Gaza border.
Dozens of Israelis have also been injured, and a number of elderly Israelis have also suffered heart attacks brought on by air raid sirens.
Following the Israeli attack, Hamas launched multiple waves of rocket attacks on southern and central Israel, firing rockets toward the cities of Ashkelon, Ashdod, Beersheba, Yavne and many surrounding communities, injuring at least two people.