Iron Dome intercepts 10 rockets; Israel reviewing cease-fire proposal; Hamas figure involved in Schalit kidnapping killed.
Over 120 rockets and mortar shells slammed into Israel over the weekend as the IDF hammered the Gaza Strip and threatened to open a large ground offensive to stop the rocket attacks.
Five Israelis were reportedly wounded when scrambling to enter bomb shelters as rockets were being fired.
Throughout the day, a number of messages were relayed to Israel by various mediators with an offer of a cease-fire from Hamas’s political echelon in the Gaza Strip.
Defense officials said Hamas appeared to be split and that while its Izzadin Qassam military wing, led by Ahmed Jabari, was continuing to attack Israel, this was being done against the position of the political echelon led by Gaza Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh.
The round of violence began on Thursday when Gazans fired an anti-tank missile at a school bus, critically wounding a 16- year-old boy and lightly injuring the driver. Hamas rocket and mortar attacks continued throughout Friday and Saturday in Beersheba, Ashkelon, Ashdod, Ofakim, Sderot and other Gaza-belt communities.
The Iron Dome counter-rocket defense system intercepted 10 Katyusha and Qassam rockets over the weekend that were fired in the direction of Ashkelon and Beersheba, where the two batteries are deployed.
Defense Minister Ehud Barak called the successful interception by the missile defense system “an extraordinary achievement for the IDF.”
Defense officials said more than 20 Hamas operatives were killed over the weekend and that dozens of others were wounded by a series of air strikes against Hamas positions, bases and launch sites.
The IAF carried out at least 46 strikes in Gaza.
“They have been hit hard and we will continue to strike at them as long as the rocket and terrorist attacks continue,” a senior defense official said on Saturday night.
Early on Saturday morning, the air force bombed a car in Rafah, killing three senior Hamas commanders including the head of Hamas in the city.
Israel blamed the slain commander for a rocket strike on Eilat launched from Sinai a fewmonths ago.
He was also said to have been involved in the 2006 kidnapping of IDF soldier Gilad Schalit.
Defense officials said the current operation was designed to create a new balance of power with Hamas. The officials said that the deterrence created following Operation Cast Lead two years ago has eroded and as a result it was necessary to create new understandings with the terrorist organization in Gaza.
Israel was reviewing the ceasefire proposal but would not accept a situation under which it halted military operations and continued to sustain rocket attacks from the Gaza Strip, they said. The success of Iron Dome was creating diplomatic maneuverability that was allowing the government more time to decide on the proposal, the officials said.
On Friday, the IAF bombed a terrorist cell that was behind the firing of Grad-model Katyusha rockets into Ashkelon earlier in the day, killing a senior Hamas field commander.
Meanwhile on Saturday, Hamas threatened to escalate it attacks and to hit a wider range of targets deeper inside Israel if the IDF refused to halt its aerial assaults on the Gaza Strip.
Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri blamed Israel for the rise in violence.
“If the Israeli escalation continues, amid international silence and complicity, the reactions by resistance factions will broaden,” he told Reuters, saying such actions would be necessary to protect Palestinians in Gaza.
At the same time as it made the threats, however, the group seemed to be attempting to calm the situation.
Abu Zuhri said that Hamas operatives did not intend to target Israeli schoolchildren when they fired a guided missile at a school bus on Thursday.
“It was not known that the bus targeted on the outskirts of Gaza carried schoolchildren,” Abu Zuhri said, adding that the road where the bus was traveling was often used by IDF vehicles.
Nahal Oz Rocket Attack on a School Bus