by Yaakov Lappin, Ben Hartman
Photo: Ronen Zvulun/Reuters
The IDF struck targets in Gaza Monday in response to a barrage of more than 30 rockets and mortar shells fired into farming districts in southern Israel by Hamas and Islamic Jihad.
The IDF response involved both Air Force and tanks.
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An army source said that a tank directed fire at a Hamas position hidden inside a mosque located in southern Gaza. The source added that Hamas often uses "religious sites as cover for its terrorist activities against Israelis."
Five Palestinians were moderately injured in the IDF operations, Palestinian news agency Ma'an reported citing witnesses and a Gaza health ministry spokesman.
Earlier Monday, the Eshkol Regional Council in southern Israel was bombarded with dozens of Palestinian rockets and mortars. Local residents reported awaking to the sounds of explosions, and rushing for cover in safe rooms designed to protect them from the projectiles.
All of the strikes landed in open areas and caused no damage, except for a single house in the Eshkol Region that was lightly damaged by shrapnel.
There were differing reports on the number of strikes on the Eshkol region on Monday morning. While the Negev police said that from 6am to around noon there were a total of 23 strikes, the IDF spokesperson’s unit said there were a total of 30.
Ronit Minaker, of the Eshkol Regional Council, said that residents received SMS messages and heard alarms beginning at around 6am Monday morning, and heard dozens of strikes on the area over the course of around an hour and a half. The strikes began at the same hour of the morning when the local children usually wake up, and on Monday were required to spend the first few hours of their last day of the holidays waiting in bomb shelters, Minaker said.
Minaker said that at the moment residents are outside of the bomb shelters but have received instructions to stay within 15 seconds from a protected area.
She added that the council will hold a meeting on the situation later on in the day, and are waiting for a decision from the IDF on whether or not they can hold a planned Simchat Torah celebration Monday, which is scheduled to host a large number of people in an open area outside a local synagogue.
Minaker said the strikes hit land belonging to three different communities, causing damage to a house, a road, and some livestock.
The residents have become accustomed to a long period of quiet in the area, Minaker said, and the communities were hosting tourists and other visitors when the strikes began.
Hamas and Islamic Jihad said they targeted the rural district as a response to an Israeli air strike on Sunday night, which struck two members of an al-Qaida-inspired terror cell as they rode on a motorcycle in southern Gaza.
The two men, 23-year-old Talat Khalil Muhammad Jerbi, and 24-year-old Abdullah Mohammed Hassan Makawi, were in the finals stages of preparing a large and complex terrorist attack on Israelis, and were plotting on launching it from the Sinai Peninsula, the IDF said.
Makawi is a member of the Ashura council of Holy Fighters on the Edge of Jerusalem, an al-Qaida-inspired organization based in Gaza. Talat was involved in previous rocket-fire on Israelis, planting bombs, and building weaponry, the IDF said. He was also a senior planner of the June 18 cross-border terror attack from Sinai on the Israeli border, which killed an Israeli civilian, and took part in the attack, the IDF added.
Both were severely wounded in the air strike. Makawi later succumbed to his wounds Monday evening, Palestinian news agency Ma'an stated citing hospital sources in the Gaza Strip.
Palestinian medical sources said eight others were injured in the attack, including four children.
The air strike was the product of a joint effort by the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) and the Air Force.
Sunday's air strike is unrelated to the intrusion of a hostile drone into Israeli airspace on Saturday.
Yaakov Lappin, Ben Hartman
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