Tensions in the Middle East have risen to new heights as deadly confrontations continued unabated Wednesday between Israel’s military and Hamas, the Palestinian militant group ruling the Gaza Strip.
The Israel Defense Forces said on Twitter early Wednesday that Hamas and other militant groups had fired more than 1,000 rockets into central and southern Israel over the past two days, targeting cities including Ashdod, Ashkelon, Beersheba, Tel Aviv and the capital, Jerusalem.
In response, the Israel Defense Forces unleashed hundreds of airstrikes aimed at what it said were Hamas and other terror targets in the Gaza Strip, where two million Palestinians have lived under a blockade imposed by neighboring Israel and Egypt since Hamas took control of the 140-square-mile territory in 2007.
The civilian death toll has been increasing on both sides. At least 53 people, including 14 children and three women, have been killed in the Gaza Strip since the violence escalated Monday, according to the Palestinian Ministry of Health.
Another 320 people have been wounded there, including 86 children and 39 women. In Israel, at least six people, including three women and a child, have been killed by rocket fire, while 46 others have been injured, according to Israeli emergency services.
The Israel Defense Forces confirmed that its fighter jets had struck two civilian buildings used by Hamas, one as a weapons storage and another for the group’s intelligence unit. The Israel Defense Forces said it warned residents to leave the area before striking the targets.
The strikes killed “a number of senior commanders” who “were a key part of the Hamas ‘General Staff’ and are considered close to the head of the Hamas military wing,” the Israel Defense Forces said in a statement Wednesday, without providing the name of those who were killed.
Hamas confirmed that its Gaza City commander Bassem Issa was killed in a strike Wednesday. The armed wing of Hamas said in a statement that Issa was killed “along with a few of his fellow brothers of leaders and holy fighters.”
Among the dead was Israel Defense Forces Staff Sgt. Omer Tabib, who was killed by one of Hamas’ missiles on Wednesday morning. He’s the first Israeli soldier to die in the ongoing violence. Two other soldiers were injured in the missile attack, according to a statement from Israel Defense Forces.
“Hamas and Islamic Jihad have paid and I tell you here, they will pay a very heavy price for their aggression. I say here tonight, they signed their death warrants,” Netanyahu said in a televised statement Tuesday evening.
“We continue to attack with all our might.” Hamas began firing a barrage of rockets from the Gaza Strip on Monday evening, and the situation quickly escalated.
The Israel Defense Forces said in a statement on its website that at least seven of those rockets were fired toward Jerusalem.
Israel’s sophisticated air defense system, known as the Iron Dome, has intercepted hundreds of rockets since Monday, according to the Israel Defense Forces. “We will do what is right to ensure the security of Israel,” Nadav Argaman, the head of Shin Bet, Israel’s domestic security agency, said during a press conference Tuesday.