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Israeli Army Strikes Hamas Targets in Gaza in Retaliation for Rocket Fire After Day of Relative Calm

IDF strikes Rafah overnight ■ Iron Dome intercepts one rocket over the southern Israeli city of Ashkelon ■ Both sides signal willingness to refrain from flare-up, but are primed for renewed aggression

Fire and smoke above buildings in Gaza City during reported Israeli strikes on March 25, 2019.
AFP

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The Israeli military carried out a series of strikes on Hamas targets in the Gaza Strip on Tuesday night and early Wednesday morning after a rocket launched from the coastal enclave targeted southern Israel. In the early morning on Wednesday, rocket sirens sounded in the southern Israeli city of Ashkelon after renewed strikes by the Israeli army in Rafah. A rocket was intercepted by the Iron Dome anti-missile defense system.

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The fire exchange came after a day of relative calm, following a serious flare-up that began on Monday. Seven people were wounded early Monday morning after a house north of Tel Aviv was hit by a rocket fired from the Gaza Strip, prompting Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to cut short his visit to Washington and return to Israel. 

The Israel Defense Forces then launched an offensive, striking heavily in Gaza.

Local councils and cities near the Gaza border as well as in central and northern Israel opened bomb shelters in preparation for responses to the offensive.

Wednesday 04:15 A.M.

A rocket is intercepted by the Iron Dome anti-missile defense system over the industrial area of the southern Israeli city of Ashkelon.

Wednesday 04:01 A.M.

Rocket sirens blare in the industrial area of the southern Israeli city of Ashkelon, Israeli army says.

Wednesday, 03:08 A.M.

The Israeli army says it struck a number of targets inside a Hamas military compound in the area of Rafah in the southern Strip. The strike was launched in response to incendiary balloons and rockets fired earlier toward Israel from the Strip, the army says, adding that it holds Hamas accountable for any hostilities emanating from the Strip.

Tuesday, 11:51 P.M.

Israeli army says it identified one rocket launch from Gaza toward the industrial area of Ashkelon after sirens blared in the area.

Tuesday, 11:40 P.M.

Rocket sirens blare in the industrial area of the southern Israeli city of Ashkelon. 

Tuesday, 11:28 P.M. 

The Israeli army attacks several targets in the southern Gaza Strip, the army's spokesperson's unit says. According to the military, among the targets struck was a Hamas military compound and a weapons manufacturing site in Khan Yunis. 

The strike was launched in response to a rocket fired earlier toward Israel from the Strip, the army says, adding that it holds Hamas accountable for any hostilities emanating from the Strip. 

Tuesday, 11:05 P.M. 

IDF strike on Hamas' public security bureau in Gaza

The Gaza-border Eshkol Regional Council tells its residents that the Israeli military started launching strikes on the Strip, warning that they will hear loud blasts. However, the council says schools will still be open Wednesday morning. 

Meanwhile, Palestinian reports say Israel struck near Khan Yunis' port. 

Tuesday, 9:18 P.M.

Reports from Gaza say that a delegation of Egyptian mediators will arrive at the Strip Wednesday.

Tuesday, 9:16 P.M.

Hamas and Islamic Jihad deny responsibility for the rocket fired earlier Tuesday evening, claiming that it was an "individual act" and unconnected to either organization.

Tuesday, 8:32 P.M.

Education Minister Naftali Bennett says in response to the latest rocket alert, "If you run from terror – the terror will follow you."

Bennett and his party, Hayamin Hehadash, released a statement calling on the prime minister to "give the order for the Israeli army to neutralize and defeat Hamas" and to stop "holding the residents of the south hostage."

Tuesday, 8:09 P.M. 

Rocket alerts blare in Gaza-border communities. Residents heard an explosion. It seems that the rocket fell in an open area. No reports of injuries or damage as of yet.

Tuesday, 7:38 P.M.

Palestinians inspect their house that was damaged in a nearby Israeli air strike in Gaza City, March 26, 2019.
\ MOHAMMED SALEM/ REUTERS

A senior Israeli official says that "no cease-fire has been reached yet and the fighting can be renewed at any minute." 

The official adds that the top defense echelon decided to prepare for any scenario and increase presence of forces along the border.

Tuesday, 6:40 P.M.

An incendiary balloon from Gaza sets fire to a field in a farming community near the Strip. The fire was extinguished by Israeli firefighters. No injuries were reported.

Tuesday, 5:41 P.M.

Several Palestinian suspects breach the security fence and cross from the southern Gaza Strip into Israeli territory, the Israel Defense Forces' Spokesperson's Unit says.

One of the suspects set a military camouflage net on fire in an unmanned military post along the fence. All suspects were returned to the Strip.

Tuesday, 5:28 P.M.

Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah says that the only way for Syria, Lebanon and the Palestinians to ensure the return of their lands is through resistance. Nasrallah also calls on the Arab League committee to withdraw its peace initiative.

Tuesday, 4:33 P.M.

The UN Mideast envoy is urging the Security Council to condemn the indiscriminate firing of rockets by Gaza's Hamas rulers toward Israel, saying this dramatically increases the risk of escalation and a new conflict.

Nikolay Mladenov told the council Tuesday that since 6 A.M. on Tuesday, "a fragile calm seems to have taken hold." He urged all sides "to exercise maximum restraint as the situation remains very tense."

Mladenov said the rocket attacks from Gaza targeting the Tel Aviv area "represents a very serious escalation."

Tuesday, 3:38 P.M.

Following the conclusion of his speech at AIPAC, the prime minister is continuing to assess the situation and consult with the chief of staff, head of the Shin Bet, head of the National Security Council, and senior officials within the army and the security establishment.

Israeli army tanks near Gaza border, Israel, March 26, 2019.
Eliyahu Hershkovitz

Tuesday, 3:31 P.M.

With permission of the security establishment, train lines in the western Negev (from Be'er Sheva to Ra'anana) will gradually return to service. The first train from Be'er Sheva will depart towards Ra'anana at 5:20 P.M.. The first train from Ashkelon to Be'er Sheva will depart at 4:10 P.M..

Tuesday, 2:58 P.M.

The area surrounding the Strip has enjoyed relative quiet since the early morning hours. Farmers returned to work in the fields, after they were asked to refrain from doing so yesterday.There have been no reports of army activity or sounds of planes in the past several hours.

In the south, army forces are spread out between several different focal points. Judging by the equipment and organization of troops, it seems to be preparation for defensive maneuvers on Friday and Saturday. The army appears to be preparing for demonstrations marking one year since the start of the March of Return, the weekly Friday protests at the Gaza border, and in honor of Land Day, a day of protest that commemorates a 1976 land grab by Israel in the north of the country.

A Palestinian man inspects the damage of a building near the offices of Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh, in Gaza City, Tuesday, March 26, 2019.
Adel Hana,AP
House struck by Gaza rocket in Mishmeret on March 25, 2019.
Meged Gozani

Tuesday, 2:38 P.M.

Nighttime protest along the Gaza-Israel border has been delayed, the oraganizing committee of the "Great March of Return" announces, stressing it's postponed, rather than cancelled, due to security concerns.

Earlier on Tuesday, the committee said it would halt all activities on Gaza's northern shores.

Fire and smoke below above buildings in Gaza City during reported Israeli strikes on March 25, 2019
AFP

Tuesday, 12:50 P.M.

No cease-fire agreement has been reached with Hamas, an Israeli official says, adding that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu instructed the Israeli army to continue striking Hamas targets in the Gaza Strip as he was en route to Israel from Washington.

The official stresses that Netanyahu, who left for a security briefing at the Israel Defense Forces headquarters in Tel Aviv immediately after returning to Israel, maintained constant communication with Chief of Staff Aviv Kochavi and other security officials.

“There was no agreement over a cease-fire,” he says, “It’s not over.” The official says Israel’s latest attack on Gaza was at 3:30 A.M. on Tuesday, and inflicted “very harsh blows” on Hamas. “We’re ready to deal even more” blows, he said.

Tuesday, 10:00 A.M.

Palestinian sources in Gaza say that Israel's condition for a cease-fire is an end to all activities around the border fence, including the launching of incendiary balloons and the planned Friday protest, which marks the one year anniversary of the "March of Return."

Tuesday, 8:50 A.M.

A senior Hamas official tells Haaretz that Gaza factions are committed to cease-fire. Aljazeera reports that Egypt is in talks with Gaza factions and the Israeli government to establish calm.

Schools in the Gaza Strip are closed.

Tuesday, 8:20 A.M.

Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan tells Israeli army radio "we will continue to exact a very heavy price from Hamas for its attacks on Israeli citizens, and that's why all rumors and heresay of a cease-fire are incorrect."

Erdan says it is clear Hamas seeks a truce, but that Israel will not relent its offensive until the objectives are reached.

Tuesday, 8:01 A.M.

Since Hamas declared a ceasefire on Monday night, attacks have continued. Launches from Gaza was limited to areas of the border communities, and ended at 3:00 AM. Israeli airforce strikes also continued through the night, and the latest was around 4:30 AM.

It appears that both sides are interested in a ceasefire, but intermittent attacks may persist until total calm is established. The Israeli army says it is prepared for an escalation in a scenario of high number of casualties.

The narrow range of fire and the choice to launch a limited number of rockets (in comparison, hundreds of rockets were fired within 24-hours during the last round of aggression in November) indicate Hamas is looking to contain the conflict and end the current bout with Israel.

Tuesday, 6:10 A.M. 

Local schools close in Gaza bordering communities of Netivot, Ofakim, the Merchavim Regional Council and the Bnei Shimon Regional Council. Local authorities have also closed schools in Ashkelon.

Tuesday, 3:15 A.M.

Rocket sirens activated in Sderot and the Sha'ar HaNegev Regional Council. 

Tuesday, 3:11 A.M. 

Israeli army attacks 15 targets in the northern Gaza Strip including a Hamas compound belonging to Beit Hanoun and a compound belonging to Islamic Jihad in the town of Beit Lahia. An official statement by the Israel Defense Forces says the attack is in retaliation for earlier missiles launched into Israeli territory. 

Tuesday, 2:47 A.M.

About 30 rockets were launched from the Gaza Strip into Israel since 10 P.M. Monday, IDF Spokesperson says. The Iron Dome intercepted several rockets and the rest fell in open areas. 

Monday, 11:47 P.M.

Two alarms are activated in the Eshkol Regional Council near the Gaza Strip. 

Monday, 11:32 P.M.

The Israeli military says that 30 rockets were launched at Israeli territory before 10 P.M., with Iron Dome shooting down several of them and the majority falling in open fields.

Monday, 11:06 P.M.

Palestinian factions say the latest barrage targeting border communities was a response to Israeli attacks.

Monday, 10:52 P.M.

Despite reports of cease-fire, Iron Dome air defense system intercepts rockets over Gaza border communities after sirens blare in Sderot and regional councils Eshkol and Sha'ar HaNegev.

Monday, 10:39 P.M.

Media outlets in Gaza report of several strikes along the Strip. Hamas sources tell Turkish state news agency Anadolu "the factions cooperated with the Egyptian effort for a cease-fire and will be bound to it if Israel doesn't strike."

An Islamic Jihad spokesperson echoes the statement, says the organization agreed to a "quiet for quiet" cease-fire, and warns Israel of continued aggression. 

Monday, 10:13 P.M.

Popular Resistance Committees spokesman Mohammed Elbarim says "a great Egyptian effort managed to achieve a cease-fire, but we continue to follow developments in the field."

Monday, 9:50 P.M.

Hamas media reports Egypt has managed to negotiate a cease-fire between Israel and the Gaza factions.

Monday, 9:50 P.M.

Gaza Health Ministry reports seven total people wounded since Israeli strikes began.

Monday, 9:38 P.M.

Gaza Health Ministry reports three wounded were evacuated in light to medium condition to a hospital after an Israeli strike in the northern Gaza Strip.

Monday, 9:35 P.M.

Gaza factions war room warns that if the Israeli offensive persists, the coastal city of Ashdod will enter the launch radius.

Monday, 9:30 P.M.

House struck in central Israel struck by rocket on March 25, 2019.
Meged Gozani

Rocket sirens sound off in several Gaza border communities.

Monday 9:27 P.M.

Rocket hits home in Sderot. No casualties reported.

Monday, 9.26 P.M

The joint war room of the Gaza factions announces they have begun launching rockets towards Sderot and Netiv Ha'asara in response to "Israeli aggression in the Strip."

Monday, 9:24 P.M.

Senior Israeli official say there's a "high-quality target bank" for the operation, which was presented to and approved by Netanyahu.

Monday, 8:40 P.M.

There are reports in Gaza that the offices of Hamas politburo chief Ismail Haniyeh have been hit. The Israeli army confirmed the attack.

Monday, 8:17 P.M.

The Gaza Health Ministry says one man was evacuated to the hospital after strikes hit eastern Gaza City.

Monday, 8:16 P.M.

European Union releases statement reiterating its commitment to Israel's security, says "Rocket attacks from Gaza and any other violent actions or provocations by Palestinian militants in Gaza must stop immediately."

Monday, 8:15 P.M.

An explosion was heard in the Eshkol Regional Council following rocket sirens. No casualties or damage has been reported thus far.

Monday, 8:06 P.M.

The head of Lebanon's Hezbollah, Hassan Nasrallah, reportedly met Monday with a Hamas delegation in Beirut led by senior Hamas official Saleh al-Arouri.

Monday, 7:55 P.M.

The Israeli army says it bombed Hamas' public security offices in Gaza City, the third terror asset it claimed it struck since this round of aggressions began. Hamas confirmed the strike.

Monday, 7:45 P.M.

In an interview for Channel 13, acting Foreign Minister Yisrael Katz said the offensive is the most expansive action Israel has taken in Gaza since 2014's Operation Protective Edge.

Monday, 7:05 P.M.

Sources in Gaza also reported the strikes are targeting Hamas training and military outposts. Reports have also said civilian buildings have been bombarded in the strikes. All hospitals in the Strip are on alert, and residents have been asked to show vigilance. An official notice stated schools across the Strip would be closed on Tuesday.

Monday, 7:02 P.M.

The Israeli army said it struck a three-story building in the Strip, claiming it served as headquarters for several wings of Hamas' intelligence apparatus. The statement called the building a central asset of the organization.

Reports in the Strip say the building is used by a well-known insurance company.

Monday, 6:10 P.M.

Hamas politburo chief Ismail Haniyeh said "any crossing of red lines would be met with a response," and that this offensive must be faced with "a unified front."

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Earlier Monday, the Israel Defense Forces said that the rocket, which struck a home in the community of Mishmeret in the early hours of the morning, was fired from a Hamas position near Rafah in the southern Strip, some 120 kilometers away. The military said the rocket was manufactured by the group.

The military sent two infantry brigades and armored forces to southern Israel and is preparing to call up thousands of reservists, including some from the Air Defense Command, the Intelligence Corps and the Home Front Command. 

The military has not issued the usual formal orders for an immediate reserve call-up, but is instead telling reservists to prepare for a call to duty in the event of a significant escalation. This is the first time in years that the IDF is taking such a step.

Israel also closed the Erez and Kerem Shalom border crossings into the Gaza Strip.

Nickolay Mladenov, the UN special coordinator for the Middle East process, said earlier Monday that the UN is "working intensely with Egypt and all sides" to reduce tensions.

Islamic Jihad warned the "Zionist enemy against attacking the Strip," saying they would "respond with force" to any attack. A statement on behalf of the armed groups in Gaza said that if Israel strikes the Strip, "all Israeli targets will be in the range of fire."

The rocket attack on central Israel left a 60-year-old woman in moderate condition, with her husband sustaining light wounds; a man and woman, both 30, were lightly wounded along with their 3-year-old and 6-month-old; and a 12-year-old neighbor was also lightly wounded. The 12-year-old, 6-month-old and 30-year-old woman remain hospitalized, while the others have been released. 

The army confirmed that the Iron Dome defense system had not been activated Monday morning when the rocket hit because rocket fire toward the center of the country was not expected at the time.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.