After days of slow but steady escalation of violence in the Gaza Strip, the Israeli army launched “Operation Protective Edge” last night, with Israeli airplanes heavily bombing the coastal enclave.
So far, the strikes have killed at least 22 Palestinians, including seven people who were at the al-Kaware family home in Khan Younis. They have wounded an estimated 100 people, according to Ma’an News. An estimated seven children have been killed, Reuters reported. According to the Palestinian Center for Human Rights, “7 houses, a blacksmith workshop and a poultry farm were destroyed, and a number of houses and civilian facilities were heavily damaged.” This assault follows Israeli strikes on Monday, which killed nine people, including six members of Hamas in a tunnel.
In the attack on the al-Kaware home, Israel called up a resident and warned everybody to leave the house, according to a New York Times report. Then an Israeli drone fired a flare, leading neighbors to gather on the roof to try to stop an air strike. It came anyway.
Palestinian militant groups, including Hamas, which rules Gaza, have fired scores of rockets during this round–160 in total, according to the Israeli army, leading many Israelis to rush into bomb shelters. Rockets aimed at Tel Aviv have been shot down by the Iron Dome defense system, though one exploded in Jerusalem, the Israeli army confirmed. A rocket also reached Hadera, in the north of Israel–62 miles from Gaza. The rocket fire, largely at the south of the country near the Gaza border, has resulted in one Israeli being lightly injured, though there have been no deaths yet on the Israeli side. Hamas fighters also attempted to infiltrate an Israeli military base by sea, but were thwarted, with Israeli forces killing a reported 5 Hamas members. One soldier was wounded in the attack.
A Hamas spokesman laid out what the militant group is demanding before they stop firing: the halting of military operations in Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza; the release of prisoners who were rearrested in recent weeks after being let out in 2011 for Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit; and a re-commitment to a 2012 ceasefire.
Israel has called up 1,500 reservists, and authorized 40,000 more to be called up if necessary.
It is the largest military operation on Gaza since November 2012, when an aerial bombing campaign killed an estimated 167 people, including 87 civilians. That operation, sparked by the assassination of Hamas militant leader, ended in a truce that Israel has repeatedly violated.
In the face of Israeli violations, Hamas has largely held its fire over the past two years, and has tried to prevent more militant factions from escalating the situation. But on Monday, Hamas, for the first time since 2012, decided to partake in the fighting–a potentially damaging move to the movement, which is hemmed in by Israel and Egypt and governing over a strip mired in economic crisis. Since 2007, Gaza has been under Israeli and Egyptian blockade, which has intensified since the military takeover in Egypt last year.
The latest round of fighting takes place in an inflamed atmosphere across Israel/Palestine, fueled by the murders of three Israeli youths–which Israel has tried to pin on the Hamas leadership with little evidence–and the murder of Mohammed Abu Khdeir. Rocket fire increased after Israel’s “Operation Brother’s Keeper,” launched after the three teens went missing, began. That operation saw thousands of Israeli soldiers fan out across the West Bank, ransacking homes, arresting hundreds and taking an estimated $3 million worth of cash and property from Palestinians, according to the Euro-Mid Observer for Human Rights. The military campaign has been criticized by human rights groups in Palestine and the U.S. as “collective punishment.”
Israeli leaders are saying that the current military operation won’t be short. “The prime minister’s instruction by the end of the meeting was to prepare for a thorough, long, continuous and strong campaign in Gaza,” a senior official told Haaretz. “The prime minister instructed the army to be ready to go all in. A ground offensive is on the table.”
The White House has voiced full support for Israel. “No country can accept rocket fire aimed at civilians and we support Israel’s right to defend itself against these vicious attacks,” White House spokesman Josh Earnest said.