Israel closes Ben Gurion airport after barrage of rockets from Gaza
Tel Aviv suffers biggest ever militant attack as death toll from Israeli strikes on Gaza rises
Israeli soldiers take cover as rockets are launched from the Gaza strip, controlled by the Palestinian Hamas movement, into the southern Israeli city of Ashkelon on Tuesday. Photograph: Jack Guez/AFP via Getty Images
Some 130 rockets were fired from Gaza at Tel Aviv on Tuesday night in the biggest militant attack ever on Israel’s largest urban centre. There were no immediate reports of serious casualties, but a woman was killed in a rocket attack on the central city of Rishon L’Tzion.
Israel’s main international Ben Gurion airport was closed to incoming and outgoing flights shortly after the barrage on central Israel in what will be seen as a major achievement for the militant groups.
Residents in Tel Aviv ran to bomb shelters as militant groups in Gaza warned of more attacks to come.
The action was in response to Israel’s decision to bomb a 13-storey building in Gaza city causing it to collapse. Israel claimed the high-rise was home to a number of leading militants, and residents were warned in advance to leave the structure before the attack.
The unprecedented barrage on the greater Tel Aviv area marked a significant escalation and ended any hope that a ceasefire can be achieved in the coming days.
Earlier on Tuesday Israel continued its assault on militant targets in Gaza from the air, land and sea as wave after wave of rocket fire confined residents across southern Israel to bomb shelters.
There was no letup in the violence despite international calls for calm and restraint.
“We are in the midst of a campaign,” prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu said on Tuesday evening. “We’ve carried out hundreds of strikes against Hamas and Islamic Jihad in Gaza. We’ve hit commanders and many high-quality targets.” He said a decision had been made “to further intensify the severity and pace of the attacks.”
Hamas said it was acting to defend Jerusalem’s al-Aqsa mosque from Israeli “aggression and terrorism” after clashes on Monday at the holy site between Israeli police and Palestinians left hundreds injured.
Gaza’s Hamas-run health ministry says some 30 people have been killed and more than 150 wounded in the current round of fighting. Nine children and a woman were amongst the fatalities. The Israeli military claimed some of the civilians may have been killed when militant-fired projectiles fell short, landing inside Gaza.
The Israeli army said the targets destroyed in Gaza included weapon caches, training facilities, two militant tunnels, a Hamas control-and-command centre and the homes of a senior Hamas and Islamic Jihad operatives. Israel claims 20 militants were killed in the attack on the tunnels but there was no confirmation from Hamas.
Israel also called up 5,000 reservists, indicating that preparations were in place for widening the campaign. Tanks, artillery pieces and other armoured vehicles took up positions along the border.
Hamas threatened to strike at Tel Aviv if the Israeli attacks on Gaza city apartment buildings continued but Israel claims senior militant commanders use such buildings as hideouts and command centres.
A Hamas TV channel said the group was deploying Iranian A-120 rockets, with a range of 100km.
More than 600 rockets have been fired from Gaza at Israel since fighting began on Monday – some 200 were aimed at the coastal city of Ashkelon on Tuesday, the closest Israeli city to Gaza.
Five rockets made direct hits on homes: four in Ashkelon and one in Ashdod. Two Israelis were killed on Tuesday when a rocket hit a building in Ashkelon – an 80-year-old woman and a foreign care assistant.
Three Israelis, including a five-year-old were moderately hurt when a rocket hit a bus in Holon, close to Tel Aviv.
The Israeli army initially reported that up to 90 per cent of the incoming projectiles were successfully intercepted by Israel’s Iron Dome anti-missile defence system. Hamas responded by changing tactics and firing a massive number of rockets simultaneously at a specific area in an effort to penetrate Israel’s defensive shield.
The violence has also spread to Arab communities inside Israel including the mixed Jewish-Arab city of Lod in central Israel where a Jewish resident opened fire and killed an Arab protester in what he described as a life-threatening encounter with an angry Arab mob.
Hamas has already chalked up a number of strategic achievements: it took Israel by surprise with Monday evening’s rocket barrage aimed at Jerusalem, which started the current escalation; it has established itself as the leading force resisting Israel; and it has pushed the issue of Jerusalem to centre stage of the conflict.
Israel is still seeking a significant strategic achievement that will allow it to consider a truce.