by Nikki Guttman and Israel Hayom Staff
Israeli fighter jets target 25 Hamas positions after terrorists fire some 45 projectiles at Gaza-vicinity communities • Iron Dome defense system intercepts seven rockets
An IAF strike on a Hamas target in the Gaza Strip, WednesdayPhoto: IDF Spokesperson's Unit
Israeli fighter jets struck 25 Hamas positions in the Gaza Strip in the early hours of Wednesday morning in response to a heavy barrage of mortar shells and rockets fired from the coastal enclave at border-adjacent communities.
Three Hamas operatives were wounded in one airstrike in southern Gaza, the Palestinians said.
Dozens of Color Red alerts blasted through the Eshkol, Hof Ashkelon, Sdot Negev and Shaar Hanegev regional councils between 2:30 a.m. and 5:50 a.m., as some 45 projectiles were fired at the area, in one of the worst flare-ups on the border in weeks.
The military said the Iron Dome defense system intercepted seven rockets. Five projectiles landed in communities in the Eshkol Regional Council – one near a kindergarten – causing some property damage, the IDF said. At least three landed on the Palestinian side of the border, and the others landed in open areas in the western Negev.
"The Hamas terrorist organization targeted Israeli civilians throughout the night with a severe rocket attack and is dragging the Gaza Strip and its civilians down a deteriorating path," the IDF Spokesperson's Unit said in a statement.
"In response to the rockets fired throughout the night, IAF fighter jets targeted 25 terror targets in the Gaza Strip. The IDF holds Hamas responsible for everything that transpires in the Gaza Strip and it will be held accountable for deliberately targeting Israeli civilians."
Prior to the rocket salvo, the Israeli Air Force targeted a Hamas military compound in southern Gaza in retaliation for Tuesday's bout of kite terrorism, which set 20 fires in Israeli communities near the border.
"The IDF is prepared to defend Israeli civilians and will increase its activity as necessary," the military tweeted.
Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum praised the rocket fire, saying the Palestinians had "a legitimate right by which bombing is met with bombing." He refrained, however, from claiming responsibility for the rocket barrage on behalf of Gaza's rulers.
Over the past week, the IDF has been trying to generate deterrence vis-à-vis Gaza-based kite terrorists, targeting Hamas positions and incendiary kite cells in an effort to curb the phenomenon, which has reduced thousands of acres of forest and agricultural land on the Israeli side of the border into ash, causing tens of millions of shekels in damage and affecting every community in the area.
However, hedging that Israel would prefer to avoid a full-fledged military campaign, Hamas decided to strike back, launching one of the most intense rocket volleys in recent weeks at Israel's south.
After consultations, the defense establishment decided to order the Gaza-vicinity communities to resume their normal routine, especially in the area's schools. Farmers working near the border were instructed to coordinate their activities with the military.
IDF Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Gadi Eizenkot called a situation assessment Wednesday, after which a defense official said that "if Hamas keeps trying to change the rules of the game, we are ready for a large-scale operation in Gaza."
The official said that Hamas is misreading the situation and warned that Israel will no longer tolerate incidents of kite terrorism, even if countering the phenomenon means a conflict with Gaza.
Nikki Guttman and Israel Hayom Staff
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