As the Israeli military intensifies its strike on Hamas, plans for a possible ground invasion of the Gaza Strip will be presented to IDF Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Aviv Kohavi for approval later on Thursday.
Speaking to reporters, IDF Spokesperson Brig.-Gen. Hidai Zilberman said that the plans were being drafted by the Gaza Division and Southern Command and will then be brought to Israel’s political echelon for approval.
After a large barrage of rockets towards central and southern Israel on Thursday afternoon, Abu-Ubaida, spokesman of Hamas’s military wing the Izzadin al-Qassam Brigades, claimed that Hamas was launching rockets towards Ramon Airport with the 250 Ayyash rocket which he claimed is a strong rocket with a range greater than 250 km.
The Al-Qassam spokesman warned international airlines to immediately halt all flights to Israel.
Abu-Ubaida called the barrage “a victory for Al-Aqsa and part of our response to the assassination of our heroic leaders and engineers.”
The barrage came as the IDF continues to hit government targets and banks as well senior leaders in the terror organization. On Thursday morning, the IDF struck at least four terrorist cells that were preparing to launch anti-tank guided missiles (ATGM’s) towards Israel within about two hours.
“The organization is losing everything,” Zilberman told reporters on Thursday morning.
“Tonight we started destroying government targets in the Gaza Strip, such as central banks and internal security buildings. Hamas is beginning to discover cracks and there is pressure in the organization, even among the Gaza public who is losing its patience and sees these ruins on the eve of the holiday [of Eid al-Fitr],” he said.
Over 650 targets belonging to Hamas have been struck since the beginning of Operation Guardian of the Walls, such as those belonging to their police, Interior Ministry, banks, homes of commanders including that of the battalion commander of Khan Younis, a naval commando unit and a defensive tunnel inside a school.
دمار كبير في الشوارع المحيطة بمجمع “أبو خضرة” وسط مدينة غزة بعد قصف الاحتلال الليلة. pic.twitter.com/PZ0YkEXSm3
— وكالة شهاب للأنباء (@ShehabAgency) May 13, 2021
Three high-rise buildings were also destroyed by Israel Air Force airstrikes and some 60 Hamas operatives have been killed, including 10 senior commanders.
Palestinian media reported on Thursday that at least 83 people have been killed in the IDF strikes, including 17 children, and that more than 487 have been wounded. Israel says that some were killed by rockets that misfired and fell inside Gaza.
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According to Zilberman, all options remain on the table and additional ground troops have been redeployed to the border ahead of a possible ground operation, including from the Paratroopers Brigade, Golani Infantry Brigade and 7th Armored Brigade.
On Thursday afternoon, Abu Ubaida claimed that Hamas has launched “massive rocket strikes” larger than any launched on Israel since the 1948 War of Independence.
“The decision to bomb Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, Dimona, Ashkelon, Ashdod, Beersheba and closer and further than it, is easier for us than drinking water,” added Abu-Ubaida.
The Al-Qassam spokesperson dared Israel to “mobilize whatever forces you want from land, sea and air,” warning that the terrorist group has “prepared for you varieties of death.”
“What distinguishes this battle is the solidarity of our people in all arenas and their unanimity on the option of resistance,” said the Al-Qassam spokesperson adding in a statement addressed to Arab-Israelis and Palestinians in the West Bank that “Our weapons are your weapons, our blood is your blood, and our fate is yours.”
On Wednesday night, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu informed the security cabinet that Israel officially rejected a Hamas proposal for a ceasefire and Kohavi held a call with General Mark Milley, Chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff to update him on the operation.
Throughout the night, incoming-rocket sirens sounded throughout the country across the Center and South, as well as in northern Israel – as far as the Galilee region, a rare occurrence. According to Zilberman, those sirens were false alarms. More than 1,369 rockets have been fired into Israel since the fighting began on Monday, with 1,031 rockets falling in Israel. Of those that fell, 264 fell in areas with buildings, causing damage in 167 incidents.
Several rockets made direct hits, including in Petah Tikva and Rishon Lezion where a part of a rocket landed inside a home; no one was injured.
Starting on Thursday morning, Ben-Gurion Airport began rerouting inbound flights to the Ramon International Airport in southern Israel. Departing flights will still leave from Ben-Gurion.
Israel’s security cabinet on Wednesday night approved Kohavi’s recommendation to escalate retaliatory airstrikes into the Gaza Strip. Defense Minister Benny Gantz briefed members of the Knesset as the prime minister declared that Israel will not accept a ceasefire with Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad.
An IDF soldier was killed by an anti-tank missile early Wednesday morning and a five-year-old boy was killed later in the day when a rocket scored a direct hit on his family’s apartment building in Sderot.
A rocket barrage was launched toward central Israel on Wednesday evening and sirens sounded in Tel Aviv and throughout the South as Hamas launched the rockets to avenge the deaths of its top commanders by Israel earlier in the day.
The rockets either fell in open areas or were intercepted by the Iron Dome missile defense system. In Ashkelon though, one of the rockets scored a direct hit on a home, causing extensive damage to one of the bedrooms. A child had been sleeping there moments earlier and was whisked to safety when the sirens sounded.
Earlier in the day, IDF St.-Sgt. Omer Tabib was killed and three other soldiers were injured after a Hamas-fired Kornet ATGM hit his jeep near the Gaza border. The attack came after a night of intense rocket barrages toward the center of the country.
The jeep, belonging to the 931st Nahal battalion, was inside the Kibbutz of Netiv Ha’asara but was at a spot where it was exposed to the ATGM when it was struck.
Netanyahu said on Wednesday afternoon: “On behalf of all Israeli citizens, I express my deepest condolences and send my condolences to the family and friends of the IDF soldier, the late Staff-Sgt. Omer Tabib, a fighter in the Nahal Brigade who fell this morning from anti-tank fire during an operation to protect the Gaza Strip.
“I send my best wishes for a speedy and complete recovery to another fighter and another officer who were injured in the attack.”
Shortly before the attack, the IDF warned residents of communities near Gaza to remain at home out of concern that Hamas might fire short-range mortars or ATGM’s, or carry out sniper attacks against civilians in the area.
Updated Home Front Command directives have been put in place from Wednesday at 6 p.m. until Friday at 2 p.m. In the Gaza border communities, the Western Negev, the Shfela region, Sharon and Yarkon, up to ten people will be allowed in open areas and 100 inside. It is permitted to work in places where there is an accessible rocket shelter; educational institutions will be closed.
In the rest of the country, gatherings will be permitted in accordance with the government’s instructions. Workplaces will be active without restrictions and classes will take place without restrictions.
Netanyahu commented on the recent string of assassinations in the Hamas General Staff, adding that “This is just the beginning. We will strikes them with blows they haven’t dreamed of.”
Gantz decided on Wednesday afternoon to extend the special situation in the home front for an additional two weeks in light of the ongoing rocket attacks against Israel and plans to expand IDF strikes against the Gaza Strip.