Archive for May 2021

US says it’s unclear whether Iran is ready to return to nuclear deal

May 26, 2021

Blinken says Tehran knows it must decide whether to comply with treaty: ‘That’s the test and we don’t yet have an answer’

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken speaks during a press conference at the Harpa Concert Hall in Reykjavik, Iceland, May 18, 2021. (Saul Loeb/Pool Photo via AP)

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken speaks during a press conference at the Harpa Concert Hall in Reykjavik, Iceland, May 18, 2021. (Saul Loeb/Pool Photo via AP)

WASHINGTON — US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Sunday that it remains unclear whether Iran is prepared to take the necessary steps to return to compliance with the multination nuclear agreement.

Speaking ahead of a fifth round of talks in Vienna on rescuing that deal, Blinken was asked about Iranian reports that Washington had already agreed to lift some of the sanctions that have crippled the Iranian economy.

“We know what sanctions would need to be lifted if they’re inconsistent with the nuclear agreement,” he said on ABC’s “This Week.”

He added that more importantly, “Iran, I think, knows what it needs to do to come back into compliance on the nuclear side, and what we haven’t seen is whether Iran is ready to make a decision.

“That’s the test and we don’t yet have an answer.”

Political deputy at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Iran, Abbas Araghchi, enters the ‘Grand Hotel Wien’ where closed-door nuclear talks take place in Vienna, Austria, May 19, 2021. (AP Photo/Lisa Leutner)

Donald Trump in 2018 walked away from the deal, saying Tehran had violated its “spirit” and remained a regional threat. His successor Joe Biden wants to revive the plan.

For that to happen, Washington must agree to lift the sanctions reinstated by Trump and Tehran must commit to follow the terms of the deal.

Once Trump walked away from the agreement, the Islamic republic started to abandon the constraints on its production of nuclear material.

“We’ve made good progress,” Enrique Mora, the European Union official who chaired the talks between Russia, China, Germany, France, Britain and Iran, said in a tweet on Wednesday.

“An agreement is shaping up.”

Indirect negotiations between Washington and Tehran have been going on in the Austrian capital since early April, with the other five countries that are signatories to the deal acting as intermediaries.

Diplomats are hoping to get the US back on board before Iranian presidential elections on June 18.

IAEA chief: Iran’s uranium enrichment now at levels of ‘countries making bombs’

May 26, 2021

Head of UN nuclear watchdog urges tight monitoring, warns that even if 2015 pact is revived Iranian program cannot be rolled back to previous status

Rafael Grossi, director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), during a press conference at the agency's headquarters in Vienna, Austria on May 24, 2021. (ALEX HALADA / AFP)

Rafael Grossi, director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), during a press conference at the agency’s headquarters in Vienna, Austria on May 24, 2021. (ALEX HALADA / AFP)

The head of the United Nations nuclear watchdog has said Iran is enriching uranium to levels that only countries seeking to make atomic weapons reach, and that the Islamic Republic’s nuclear program can no longer be returned to where it stood when a landmark 2015 deal was struck with world powers.

“A country enriching at 60 percent is a very serious thing — only countries making bombs are reaching this level,” International Atomic Energy Agency chief Rafael Grossi said in an interview with the Financial Times published on Wednesday and cited by the Reuters News Agency.

“Sixty percent is almost weapons-grade, commercial enrichment is 2, 3 [percent],” he said. “This is a degree that requires a vigilant eye.”

Though Grossi conceded that Iran has the right to develop its nuclear program, he warned of the consequences of it going too far.

“You cannot put the genie back into the bottle — once you know how to do stuff, you know, and the only way to check this is through verification,” he said, referring to checks by UN monitors.

With the sophistication that Iran has achieved, “you want a really strong, very sturdy verification system,” he said.

The flag of Iran is seen in front of the Headquarters of the International Atomic Energy Agency, in Vienna, Austria, May 24, 2021. (Florian Schroetter/AP)

Grossi’s remarks came as world powers resumed talks with Iran to save the 2015 nuclear agreement that limited the Iranian nuclear program in return for sanctions relief. The US has since pulled out of the pact, applying sanctions, after which Iran began to publicly renege on its own commitment to the deal.

Iran’s violations since the US withdrawal from the deal include a significant increase in the purity and quantity of uranium it has been enriching, effectively reducing the so-called breakout time to produce an atomic bomb. Iran says it does not want to build an atomic bomb, insisting that its nuclear program is for civilian purposes only.

Grossi predicted that even if the nuclear deal is revived, it will not be possible to return Iran’s program to its 2015 state because it has advanced so much.

“The Iranian program has grown, become more sophisticated so the linear return to 2015 is no longer possible,” Grossi said. “What you are able to do is keep their activities below the parameters of 2015.”

In this image made from April 17, 2021, video released by the Islamic Republic Iran Broadcasting, IRIB, state-run TV, various centrifuge machines line a hall at the Natanz Uranium Enrichment Facility, Iran. (IRIB via AP)

On Tuesday World powers opened a fifth round of talks with Iran aimed at bringing the US back into the nuclear deal, with both sides expressing hope that it might be the final series of negotiations.

The talks in Vienna came a day after the IAEA struck a last-minute agreement with Tehran for a one-month extension to a deal on surveillance cameras at Iran’s nuclear sites. The issue wasn’t directly related to the ongoing talks on the nuclear accord, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, or JCPOA, but if Iran had not agreed it could have seriously complicated the discussions.

The US is not directly involved in the talks, but an American delegation headed by US President Joe Biden’s special envoy for Iran, Rob Malley, has been in the Austrian capital. Representatives from the other powers involved — Germany, France, Britain, Russia and China — have shuttled between the Americans and the Iranians to facilitate indirect talks.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, right, meets US Secretary of State Antony Blinken in his office in Jerusalem, May 25, 2021. (Haim Zach / GPO)

In 2018, then-president Donald Trump pulled the US out of the agreement unilaterally, saying it was not broad enough and needed to be renegotiated. As part of a “maximum pressure” campaign, Trump reimposed sanctions on Iran in an effort to bring Tehran back to the table.

The sanctions crippled Iran’s economy, but the Iranian government refused to renegotiate and instead retaliated by slowly and steadily breaking the restrictions on its nuclear activities laid out in the JCPOA. The moves were designed to pressure the other parties involved, thus far unsuccessfully, to come up with incentives to offset the US sanctions.

Biden, who was vice president when the original deal was negotiated, has said he wants the US to rejoin but that Iran has to return to complete compliance. Iran has insisted that all American sanctions imposed under Trump be dropped, including measures that were taken in response to non-nuclear issues.

In Jerusalem on Tuesday, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken defended the decision to reengage with the Iranians and said the US has kept Israel and other partners informed throughout the process. Israel, a close ally, has opposed efforts to revive the nuclear deal, saying it does not have adequate protection to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons. Israel has hinted it could act alone in launching a military strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities.

Despite Iran’s violations of the JCPOA, the other nations involved have stressed that the agreement was still important as it allowed International Atomic Energy Agency inspectors to continue their surveillance of Iran’s nuclear facilities.

The continuity of that surveillance was threatened until the agreement negotiated by the IAEA with Iran on Monday.

Netanyahu: Any Gaza rocket fire will be met with ‘whole new level of force’

May 21, 2021

PM says rules have changed, Israel to take much tougher stance against Hamas; Gantz sees urgent need for diplomacy, peace built on ‘rubble’ of Hamas leaders’ homes

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu gives a statement at a press conference after the Gaza ceasefire, Tel Aviv, May 21, 2021. At his side is a screen showing Gaza terror commanders killed in Operation Guardian of the Walls (Amos Ben Gershom/GPO)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu gives a statement at a press conference after the Gaza ceasefire, Tel Aviv, May 21, 2021. At his side is a screen showing Gaza terror commanders killed in Operation Guardian of the Walls (Amos Ben Gershom/GPO)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu vowed Friday that the current round of fighting with Hamas, which appeared to end with an early morning ceasefire, would see a much tougher Israeli stance toward the terror group, and that any future rocket fire from Gaza would be met with “a whole new level of force.” He said Israel had achieved its military objectives in Gaza with “extraordinary” success.

Speaking together with Netanyahu and other security chiefs, Defense Minister Benny Gantz said the truce created an opportunity for peace and it was now time for diplomacy to build a new reality “on the rubble of the homes of the Hamas leaders.” Added Gantz: “If we don’t act diplomatically, quickly and wisely,” this operation will go down as “simply another round of conflict to be followed by the next one.”

In a special statement from the Kirya military headquarters in Tel Aviv, the prime minister said that the “rules of the game were changed” and there would now be no tolerance of any rocket fire from the Gaza Strip.

“We changed the equation not only as regards to the operation but also as regards the future. If Hamas thinks we will tolerate a ‘drizzle’ of rockets, it is mistaken,” the prime minister said, referring to the sporadic fire often seen from Gaza between rounds of more major conflict in recent years.

“We will respond with a whole new level of force to every instance of aggression against the Gaza-envelope communities or anywhere else in Israel,” he said.

An Israeli soldier sits on top of a tank at a staging ground near the border with Gaza Strip, southern Israel, Friday, May 21, 2021. A cease-fire took effect early Friday after 11 days of heavy fighting between Israel and Hamas. (AP Photo/Tsafrir Abayov)

The prime minister also said that the success of the entire operation — including the thwarting of Hamas drones and most rocket attacks, via an improved Iron Dome missile defense system, and countering Hamas attempts to attack from the sea — meant that the terror group would be more careful in the future about attacking Israel.

“Most of Hamas’s capabilities have been harmed — far more seriously than Hamas commanders imagined. Hamas thought it could fire on Jerusalem and the cities of Israel, and we would just react with business as usual,” the prime minister said.

Netanyahu later issued an English-language statement:

The premier said that Israel fulfilled its objective to deal Hamas a “blow it cannot imagine” by destroying the terror tunnel network it built in Gaza; the military turned it into a “death trap.”

Israel destroyed “a considerable proportion” of Hamas’s internal tunnel routes, its “metro,” in which Hamas had invested vast resources, the prime minister said.

“We harmed more than 100 kilometers” of that network, and turned it into “a death trap for the terrorists,” Netanyahu said.

The prime minister said that although the terror group wanted to carry out many cross-border attacks — including at the tail-end of the operation — it was thwarted by Israel’s subterranean barrier, which detected and “destroyed” the terrorists.

A Palestinian woman sits inside the second floor of her destroyed house following a cease-fire reached after an 11-day war between Gaza’s Hamas rulers and Israel, in town of Beit Hanoun, northern Gaza Strip, Friday, May 21, 2021. (AP Photo/Khalil Hamra)

Netanyahu added that not everything regarding the outcome and impact of the Israeli strikes is yet known to the public, or even to Hamas: “We did daring and innovative things, without getting dragged into an unnecessary misadventure.”

Aboveground, he said Israel killed over 200 terrorists, including 25 senior officials.

“And those who didn’t die, know today that we can reach them everywhere– above or below ground,” the prime minister said, calling it “an achievement no military has ever achieved.”

Hamas may be bragging as it emerges from the tunnels, he said, “but they realize the destruction they brought upon themselves inside Gaza… they know we set them back years.”

Netanyahu also alluded to the Israel Defense Forces’ controversial demolition of a Gaza tower where numerous media agencies had offices, saying that none of the buildings that were struck were “innocent buildings.”

Instead, he said they were “Hamas offices, Hamas command centers, Hamas weapons stores. We hit rocket factories, weapons labs, weapons stores. And we did this with minimal harm to non-involved civilians.”

Palestinians inspect the destroyed building housing the offices of The Associated Press and other media after it was hit last week by an Israeli airstrike, in Gaza City, Friday, May 21, 2021. Israel says the building housed Hamas offices. (AP Photo/Hatem Moussa)

The premier said the IDF made “extreme efforts” not to harm civilians, and that no other country in the world takes such steps.

He said that he did not order a ground operation in Gaza because he believed it wasn’t necessary, and that although there will be criticism of that decision, it also prevented unnecessary loss of life.

Netanyahu said he was sad for every civilian killed in the fighting. Israel caused maximum casualties to the Hamas terror group while minimizing Israeli casualties, he said.

Netanyahu also thanked US President Joe Biden and said their six recent conversations were all friendly and warm, arguing that alongside international criticism and pressure, including in the media, Israel also received remarkable international support from dozens of countries and led successful diplomatic efforts with many global leaders.

Netanyahu said he had assured Biden that the operation would stop when its goals were achieved, that Biden “understood this,” and that this is precisely what happened.

“Many in the world are capable of distinguishing between Israel, a democratic state that sanctifies life and has the world’s most moral army, and a bloodthirsty terrorist organization that sanctifies death and commits a double war crime: deliberately firing on [our] civilians while using their civilians as human shields,” Netanyahu said.

Palestinian supporters of Hamas celebrate after a ceasefire between Hamas and Israel, in Khan Younis, in the southern Gaza Strip, on May 21, 2021. (Photo by SAID KHATIB / AFP)

Referring to apparent criticism that the ceasefire does not provide for the return of Israeli captives held in Gaza, Netanyahu said that Israel has not forgotten civilians Avera Mengistu and Hisham al-Sayed and the bodies of IDF soldiers Hadar Goldin and Oron Shaul, and is committed to returning them home.

He also promised more aid for Ashkelon and other battered southern communities, even more than they received after the 2014 war.

The prime minister said that Ashkelon needs more protection after it was hit by 1,000 rockets in the latest round of violence, and should receive economic advantages as part of moves to help the south of the country to thrive.

There was increasing awareness during the violence that large numbers of people do not have shelters or reinforced areas of their homes and do not have enough time to reach public shelters when they hear a rocket alert siren.

The elderly and people with disabilities were particularly vulnerable, as well as those living in unrecognized Bedouin encampments in the south of the country. Ashkelon Mayor Tomer Glam said last week that some 25% of the residents of his city do not have access to a bomb shelter.

Israelis on the streets of Tel Aviv, after a ceasefire between Israel and Hamas. May 21, 2021. (Miriam Alster/FLASH90)

The premier also addressed the eruption of violence between Arabs and Jews inside Israel.

“We arrested 1,300 people and dealt with the rioters with a heavy hand,” he said, repeating his demand that Arab leaders condemn the riots, claiming it was a “significant minority” within that community.

“Nobody will take the law into their own hands — not Arabs and not Jews. Nobody. We are a law-abiding state. And we are one state… We will improve coexistence… so that all Israelis, without exception, will be part of the astonishing success story of our country,” Netanyahu said.

A chance for peace

Meanwhile, Gantz said he hoped the ceasefire could herald the start of a new process aimed at achieving long-term peace.

Gantz reiterated that he believed Israel “surprised” the Hamas terror group with the intensity of its response. “The job is done, but not completed,” he said.

Defense Minister Benny Gantz makes public statement on May 21, 2021 (Screen grab)

“We achieved all our operational goals,” he said, and “set back the enemy by years.”  But now that “the military stage is over, it is time for diplomatic action.”

“On the rubble of the homes of the Hamas leaders and of over 100 kilometers of terror tunnels, we must build a new reality,” he said. That “does not mean hasty deals, but long-term processes that will weaken the extremists and strengthen and bring together moderates… There is a chance for peace.”

“We must condition development and reconstruction [in Gaza] not only on calm,” but also on the return of soldiers’ bodies and civilians held hostage in Gaza, and on new moves to create “hope, growth and moderation.”

He called on Netanyahu to not “turn an unprecedented military victory into, heaven forbid, a diplomatic missed opportunity,” saying the matter of the Strip should be strategically and diplomatically dealt with for the long term.

From left: Shin Bet chief Nadav Argaman, IDF chief Aviv Kohavi, Defense Minister Benny Gantz and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, at a press conference after the Gaza ceasefire, Tel Aviv, May 21, 2021. (Amos Ben Gershom/GPO)

IDF Chief of Staff Aviv Kohavi also addressed the nation, saying that the current operation ended with “very different” results to previous flareups, and that Hamas “made a severe and grave mistake by shooting toward Israel.”

Kohavi, like Netanyahu and Gantz before him, also said the Palestinian terror group was dealt a bigger blow than it anticipated.

“It didn’t read us correctly, and was faced with force it didn’t expect,” he said, adding that the military “made major efforts not to harm civilians” despite Hamas operating in civilian areas.

He said it was no coincidence that Hamas rocket fire tailed off toward the end of the fighting, implying that the blow to Hamas’s rocket launch capacity was extensive.

Rockets are launched from the Gaza Strip towards Israel, Monday, May. 10, 2021. (AP Photo/Khalil Hamra)

Shin Bet head Nadav Argaman also spoke, saying that the outcome of the operation could change the reality of the conflict, “depending on what will happen from now on.”

“The rules of the game have changed, and what was is not what will be,” Argaman says. “The Hamas of before this conflict is nothing like the Hamas of the day after.”

As ceasefire appears to hold, IDF says emergency restrictions to be removed

May 21, 2021

Military says update will be published in coming hours * No rockets or Israeli strikes reported since 2 a.m. * Officials say truce doesn’t include any conditions

  • Students take their highschool exams inside a bomb shelter in the central Israeli village of Tzafria, May 20, 2021, amid rocket barrages from Hamas in Gaza and IDF counterstrikes. (Photo by Gil COHEN-MAGEN / AFP)
    Students take their highschool exams inside a bomb shelter in the central Israeli village of Tzafria, May 20, 2021, amid rocket barrages from Hamas in Gaza and IDF counterstrikes. (Photo by Gil COHEN-MAGEN / AFP)
  • German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas and his Israeli counterpart Gabi Ashkenazi visit a building that was hit by Hamas rocket fire from Gaza, on May 20, 2021, in Petah Tikva. (Foreign Ministry)
    German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas and his Israeli counterpart Gabi Ashkenazi visit a building that was hit by Hamas rocket fire from Gaza, on May 20, 2021, in Petah Tikva. (Foreign Ministry)
  • Israel's Ambassador to the UN Gilad Erdan addresses the General Assembly on May 20, 2021. (Screen capture/UN)
    Israel’s Ambassador to the UN Gilad Erdan addresses the General Assembly on May 20, 2021. (Screen capture/UN)
  • A home hit by a rocket fired from Gaza in the city of Ashkelon, May 20, 2021 (Magen David Adom)
    A home hit by a rocket fired from Gaza in the city of Ashkelon, May 20, 2021 (Magen David Adom)
  • Palestinians pass by the rubble of a destroyed building in Gaza City, May 21, 2021. (AP Photo/Adel Hana)
    Palestinians pass by the rubble of a destroyed building in Gaza City, May 21, 2021. (AP Photo/Adel Hana)

The Times of Israel is liveblogging Friday’s events as they unfold. For a recap of Thursday’s news, click here.

Sister of slain IDF soldier Goldin outraged truce doesn’t include release of captives

Ayelet Kaufman, the sister of slain IDF soldier Hadar Goldin whose body is believed to be held by Hamas in Gaza, decries the fact that the ceasefire doesn’t include the return of her brother’s remains and other captives.

“We have been waiting seven years for a phone call that should have come at 2 a.m.,” she tells Army Radio, referring to the time when the truce entered effect.

“They didn’t talk to us, they didn’t even say ‘we tried,’” Kaufman laments, saying the country’s leaders are “unworthy.”

“I feel like we have lost it, that the truth has come out — the emperor doesn’t have any clothes.”

Officials say ceasefire has no conditions regarding Jerusalem

Army Radio cites unnamed officials involved in the negotiations for an Israel-Hamas ceasefire as saying the truce that entered effect at 2 a.m. has no conditions.

The report comes after the terror group reportedly had demanded that any truce include Israeli concessions in Jerusalem regarding the Temple Mount and/or planned evictions in Sheikh Jarrah.

The officials add that Egyptian mediators will arrive in the coming days to try and lower tensions in Jerusalem.

IDF says restrictions on daily life likely to be removed in coming hours

IDF Spokesperson Hidai Zilberman says that in the coming hours, the IDF Home Front Command is expected to remove some of its restrictions on daily life in southern and central Israel, some of which have been in place since the outbreak of fighting on May 10.

However, the IDF ground troops and other reinforcements deployed to the Gaza border will largely remain in place over the weekend, Zilberman says.

IDF says it warned Hamas not to fire major barrage ahead of ceasefire

Israel Defense Forces Spokesperson Hidai Zilberman says that before the ceasefire went into effect at 2 a.m., the military passed a message to Hamas that if it conducted a large-scale rocket attack by Hamas on central Israel, the IDF would retaliate with a massive airstrike on dozens of targets.

According to Zilberman, Israeli jets and other aircraft were kept in the air, hovering over Gaza in the hours before the ceasefire to carry out this threat if necessary.

“But we didn’t need to fulfill our plans. There was no final barrage,” Zilberman says.

After lull, Hamas resumes rocket fire, fires anti-tank missile at empty IDF bus

May 20, 2021

Israel resumes airstrikes on targets in Gaza as efforts for ceasefire said to gain steam; military says 80 projectiles launched by terror groups overnight

Israeli security forces at the scene where a fragment of a rocket fired from the Gaza Strip landed in the southern Israeli city of Ashdod, on May 19, 2021. (Flash90)

Israeli security forces at the scene where a fragment of a rocket fired from the Gaza Strip landed in the southern Israeli city of Ashdod, on May 19, 2021. (Flash90)

Rocket fire from Gaza abated overnight Wednesday-Thursday with no alarms sounding in Israeli communities from 1 a.m. until after 9 a.m., when the tense calm was broken with multiple waves of attacks on Israeli communities near the Gaza border, including an anti-tank missile fired by Hamas operatives at an empty military bus north of the enclave.

A soldier standing nearby the bus was lightly injured by shrapnel in the attack, the Israel Defense Forces said.

The lull came as the IDF kept up airstrikes against the Hamas terror group, which has launched the majority of thousands of rockets fired at Israel since the fighting erupted 11 days ago. However, the number and intensity of the Israeli strikes were lower than in previous nights.

There have been intense international diplomatic efforts to achieve a ceasefire, with reports indicating a truce could be reached as early as Friday as the current round of fighting appears to be drawing to a close.

In the Thursday morning attacks, multiple rounds of mortar and rocket fire were directed at Israeli communities near the Gaza Strip beginning just before 9:30 a.m., with a mortar attack on the communities of Nirm and Ein Hashlosha.

Over the next hour, more waves of mortar fire targeted additional communities around the Strip and rockets were fired toward the city of Ashkelon, one of the hardest hit areas in Israel in the current round of fighting.

No injuries were reported from the projectiles, but at least three people were lightly injured while running to bomb shelters, medics said.

Shortly after 10 a.m., the Hamas terror group announced that it had fired an anti-tank guided missile at an IDF bus near an army camp in Zikim, south of Ashkelon.

This was the second successful anti-tank guided missile attack directed against IDF soldiers on the border so far in this campaign. In the first such strike last Tuesday, IDF soldier Staff Sgt. Omer Tabib was killed when the missile struck his jeep and two other servicemen were injured, one seriously and one moderately.

From 7 p.m. Wednesday until 1 a.m. Thursday, some 80 rockets and mortar shells were fired from the Gaza Strip toward Israel, with 10 of them falling short of the border and landing within the Palestinian enclave, the IDF said Thursday morning. According to the military, roughly 90 percent of the rockets heading toward populated areas were intercepted by the Iron Dome missile defense system.

No direct injuries were reported in the late-night attacks, save for a man in his 50s who injured himself on a bomb shelter door and a 14-year-old girl who fell while running for cover. Both sustained minor injuries, according to the Magen David Adom ambulance service, and were taken to Soroka Medical Center in Beersheba for treatment.

Iron dome anti-missile system fires interception missiles as rockets fired from the Gaza Strip to Israel, in the southern Israeli city of Ashkelon, May 19, 2021. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

The IDF conducted a number of overnight strikes in the Gaza Strip, continuing its campaign against Hamas’s sprawling tunnel network throughout the enclave, the military said.

There has been increasing international pressure for the sides to agree, via mediators, on a ceasefire.

Intelligence Minister Eli Cohen said Thursday that Israel will continue what has been dubbed Operation Guardian of the Walls until its objectives are achieved.

“We can see that there is significant international pressure. We see that Hamas sources are begging for a ceasefire,” Cohen told the Kan public broadcaster. “We will finish the operation when we decide that we have obtained the objectives we want.”

Then Minister of Economy and Industry Eli Cohen attends a conference of the Manufacturers Association of Israel in Tel Aviv on December 2, 2019. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

Defense Minister Benny Gantz met Wednesday evening with senior security officials, including IDF commander Aviv Kohavi, and then approved another day of military operations in Gaza, the Walla news website reported.

Moussa Abu Marzouk, a member of Hamas’s politburo, said Wednesday night that the group could reach a ceasefire within the next 24 to 48 hours to end the ongoing hostilities with Israel.

However, he warned any further Israeli airstrikes would draw additional rocket fire from the Gaza Strip.

There have been various Israeli and international reports about ceasefire talks.

Following denials by officials on all sides, Channel 12 news reported Wednesday night that Israeli security officials believe a ceasefire could go into effect Friday afternoon. The report said that was the assessment shared during meetings of top Israeli defense brass on Wednesday.

At the same time, Israeli officials have told US officials that Washington’s pressure to reach a ceasefire quickly is only hindering the possibility of a truce, according to Channel 12.

The Wall Street Journal also reported late Wednesday that the ceasefire between Israel and the Gaza terror groups could come into effect as early as Friday.

People involved in the discussions told the outlet that Egyptian mediators have made progress in talks with leaders from the Hamas terror group, and Israel has “privately conceded” that it is close to achieving all its military objectives.

The report said Washington believes that barring any unforeseen events, the ceasefire could come into effect this week and the only question is one of timing.

However, a US official told the outlet that the Palestinian Islamic Jihad one of the terror groups in the Gaza Strip, remains an unknown quantity — the newspaper says the terror group is a “wild card” — and could continue to carry out attacks even after the ceasefire is agreed upon.

The White House declined to comment on the report.

Earlier Wednesday, US President Joe Biden told Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in a phone call that he expects “a significant de-escalation today on the path to a ceasefire,” as Washington stepped up pressure on Jerusalem to end the fighting.

Yet, the IDF believes that Hamas is trying to score a “major success,” such as a cross-border attack or other major assault, which it can fete as a victory over Israel, a senior officer in the military’s Southern Command told reporters on Wednesday.

The senior officer said he believed the military’s intelligence capabilities would prevent the terror group from conducting a large invasion into Israel, but acknowledged that a smaller operation was possible.

The officer said Hamas may try to conduct a large-scale barrage on the Tel Aviv metropolitan area, having refrained from firing rockets at the city in recent days. According to IDF Military Intelligence, the terror group has at least enough long-range munitions to conduct several more barrages of dozens of rockets at Tel Aviv.

Israel’s Iron Dome air defense system intercepts rockets above the coastal city of Tel Aviv on May 15, 2021, following their launching from the Gaza Strip (Ahmad Gharabli / AFP)

Hamas and other Gaza terror groups have launched nearly 3,700 rockets at Israel since May 10, at times forcing people living near Gaza into bomb shelters around the clock.

Israel, in response, launched an extensive bombing campaign in the Strip. The humanitarian crisis has deepened in the impoverished Strip, with the UN saying 72,000 Palestinians have been displaced.

Twelve people in Israel, including a 5-year-old boy and a 16-year-old girl, have been killed in rocket fire, and hundreds have been injured over the past ten days.

On Wednesday, Gaza’s Hamas-run health ministry updated the death toll in the Strip to 227, including more than 64 minors. It was not immediately clear if the ministry tally included all of those killed or if there were Hamas operatives not included in the count.

According to the IDF, more than 120 of those killed were members of Hamas and over 25 were members of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad as of Monday night. The IDF says some of the Gaza civilian fatalities were killed by the terror groups’ own rockets falling short and exploding in Gaza.

Over 5 hours since Gaza rocket last fired at Israel

May 18, 2021

IDF strikes another 15 km of tunnels in the Strip * Projectile hits home in south, but no injuries * Military believes Palestinian faction responsible for Lebanon attack

  • A ball of fire explodes above buildings in Gaza City as Israel shells the Palestinian enclave, early on May 18, 2021, amid fighting between the Israel Defense Forces and Gaza-ruling Hamas terror group. (Mahmud Hams/AFP)
    A ball of fire explodes above buildings in Gaza City as Israel shells the Palestinian enclave, early on May 18, 2021, amid fighting between the Israel Defense Forces and Gaza-ruling Hamas terror group. (Mahmud Hams/AFP)
  • Rockets are launched by Palestinian terrorists in the southern Gaza Strip toward Israel, May 17, 2021. (Said Khatib/AFP)
    Rockets are launched by Palestinian terrorists in the southern Gaza Strip toward Israel, May 17, 2021. (Said Khatib/AFP)
  • A top view shows the remains of a six-story building which was destroyed by an early morning Israeli airstrike, in Gaza City, May 18, 2021, amid fighting between the Israel Defense Forces and the coastal enclave's Hamas rulers. (AP Photo/Khalil Hamra)
    A top view shows the remains of a six-story building which was destroyed by an early morning Israeli airstrike, in Gaza City, May 18, 2021, amid fighting between the Israel Defense Forces and the coastal enclave’s Hamas rulers. (AP Photo/Khalil Hamra)
  • An Israel Defense Forces artillerypiece fires toward the Gaza Strip on May 18, 2021, amid fighting between the Israel Defense Forces and the coastal enclave's Hamas rulers. (Gili Yaari/Flash90)
    An Israel Defense Forces artillerypiece fires toward the Gaza Strip on May 18, 2021, amid fighting between the Israel Defense Forces and the coastal enclave’s Hamas rulers. (Gili Yaari/Flash90)
  • A Muslim women hold posters and shout slogans during an anti-Israel protest in Surabaya, East Java, Indonesia, May 17, 2021. (AP Photo/Trisnadi)
    A Muslim women hold posters and shout slogans during an anti-Israel protest in Surabaya, East Java, Indonesia, May 17, 2021. (AP Photo/Trisnadi)

The Times of Israel is liveblogging Tuesday’s events as they happen. For a recap of Monday’s news, click here.

Egyptian intel delegation may visit Israel on Tuesday — report

A delegation of Egyptian intelligence official may visit Israel today, according to the Saudi-owned broadcaster Al Arabiya, amid international efforts to halt the ongoing fighting between the Israeli military and the Gaza-ruling Hamas terror group.

Over 5 hours since Gaza rocket fired at Israel amid ceasefire push

More than five hours have passed since Palestinian terrorists in the Gaza Strip have fired rocket at Israel from the enclave, as international mediators attempt to broker a ceasefire between Hamas and Israel.

The most recent attack occurred at 6:15 a.m., when projectiles were fired toward the community of Ein Hashlosha near the Gaza border in the Eshkol region of southern Israel.

Israel, meanwhile, has not yet stopped conducting airstrikes, according to Palestinian media reports.

EU foreign policy chief speaks with Blinken about ending Gaza fighting

EU Foreign Minister Josep Borrell says he spoke with his American counterpart Antony Blinken about ending the fighting in Gaza between Israel and the Strip’s Hamas rulers.

They also discussed how to “reduce tensions” between Israel and the Palestinians, Borrell writes on Twitter.

He adds: “Looking beyond, we also need longer term initiatives to break the dynamics of conflict and revive the prospect of a peaceful future for all.”

Police arrest 2 more suspects over brutal assault on Arab driver in Bat Yam

Police announce the arrest of two more suspects over a brutal assault last week on Arab motorist by a Jewish mob in the coastal city of Bat Yam.

The two were arrested over the weekend and brought before a court last night, which approved extending their remand until Thursday, according to police.

Police say three people have so far been arrested over the attack — a minor from Holon and two men from Bat Yam.

IDF: Palestinian tried to shoot, throw explosive at troops in Hebron before being shot

The Israel Defense Forces says a Palestinian who tried to attack Israeli troops in the West Bank city of Hebron was armed with explosives, a makeshift Carlo-style submachine gun and a knife.

“The IDF soldiers spotted the terrorist who was approaching them and tried to shoot and throw an explosive toward them. The soldiers responded with fire and neutralized the terrorist,” a statement from the IDF says.

No Israeli soldiers were injured.

Hundreds in Indonesia protest against Israel outside US Embassy

JAKARTA, Indonesia — Pro-Palestinian protesters march to the heavily guarded US Embassy in Indonesia’s capital to demand an end to Israeli airstrikes in the Gaza Strip amid fighting between the Israel Defense Forces and the enclave’s Hamas rulers.

Waving Indonesian and Palestinian flags and signs that read “Free Palestine,” several hundred demonstrators gather along a major street in Jakarta that runs outside the embassy. More than 1,000 police are deployed around the compound, which is blocked off by concrete road separators.

Indonesia, the world’s most populous Muslim majority nation, does not have formal diplomatic relations with Israel and there is not an Israeli Embassy in the country.

One group of protesters, organized by the United Indonesian Muslim Student Action group, chants “God is Great” and “Freedom for Palestine” as they march. Their banners and placards slam the airstrikes in Gaza and denounce America’s staunch support of Israel.

Another group, organized by the Confederation of Indonesian Trade Unions, holds a similar rally a few hundred meters (yards) from the embassy. They yell “Save Palestinians” as they march through downtown Jakarta to the United Nations mission.

Similar protests organized by union workers are held at the same time in other Indonesian cities, including in Surabaya, Bandung, Yogyakarta, Makassar and Riau.

Authorities warned protesters to maintain social distance during the demonstrations to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.

The hostilities in Gaza, now in their ninth day, erupted last week after Hamas fired several rockets at Jerusalem amid escalating Israeli-Palestinian tensions over the city.

A Muslim women hold posters and shout slogans during an anti-Israel protest in Surabaya, East Java, Indonesia, May 17, 2021. (AP Photo/Trisnadi)

Israel to weigh reopening Kerem Shalom crossing with Gaza

Israel’s military and political leadership will hold discussions today to consider a reopening of the Kerem Shalom Crossing into the Gaza Strip, which has been closed since the start of the fighting last Monday.

In light of the closure, Gaza’s sole electrical plant has nearly run out of fuel and the Strip has seen major power cuts throughout the ongoing battle, which have also affected its water supply and sewage treatment.

Last night, Palestinian officials said they had received word that Israel would reopen the crossing as a humanitarian gesture.

Israel Defense Forces Spokesperson Hidai Zilberman initially dismissed the report this morning, telling reporters “there’s no opening and no Kerem Shalom.” Another military spokesperson later clarifies that no decision has yet been made on the matter, but that it is being considered.

Trucks passing through the Kerem Shalom crossing, the main passage point for goods entering the Gaza Strip from Israel. (Said Khatib/AFP)

Meretz MK urges government to reach ceasefire in Gaza

MK Tamar Zandberg of the left-wing Meretz party calls on the government to reach a ceasefire to immediately end the fighting in Gaza between the Israel Defense Forces and Hamas.

She says the hostilities, now in their ninth day, are “no different” from previous bouts of fighting in recent years that generally lasted for a few days.

“If we don’t change the approach, [the current round] also won’t be any different from those that follow it,” Zandberg writes on Twitter.

She says the fighting is causing the “death of innocents, destruction and despair on both sides” without changing anything and that there is no military solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Zandberg also says “peace is the thing that most scares” Prime Minister Netanyahu and right-wing politicians and accuses the government of “speaking with Hamas and branding Abu Mazen a terrorist,” referring to PA President Mahmoud Abbas.

Meretz MK Tamar Zandberg at a Knesset faction meeting on April 26, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Two men charged over far-right assault on journalists in Tel Aviv

Prosecutors file charges at the Tel Aviv Magistrate’s Court against two far-right rioters filmed assaulting journalists in southern Tel Aviv last week.

The suspects are named in the indictment as Yosef Peretz and Yosef Maatuf.

Among the charges filed against the two are assaulting a public servant, as the cameramen and reporter they attacked work for the Kan public broadcaster.

IDF reports attempted attack in Hebron; assailant ‘neutralized,’ no Israelis hurt

The Israel Defense Forces says a Palestinian assailant was “neutralized” during an attempted attack in the West Bank city of Hebron.

No Israelis were injured and the IDF says it is looking into the matter.

Israel said to acknowledge that strike on Gaza media tower fueled US discomfort

Army Radio quotes an unnamed Israeli source saying a strike on high-rise building in Gaza that housed the offices of The Associated Press and other media outlets — and that Israel maintains was being used by Hamas military intelligence — put the Jewish state in an uncomfortable spot vis-a-vis the United States.

The comment comes after US Secretary of State Antony Blinked said yesterday that he asked Israel for evidence that the Gaza-ruling Hamas was using the building, adding that he hasn’t seen any himself.

Gaza terrorists disrupt funeral of 5-year-old victim of rocket attack

May 14, 2021

IDF said to target homes of senior Hamas commanders as communities in south continue to be bombarded; Shin Bet calls Jewish-Arab violence ‘terror for all intents and purposes’

  • Flames and smoke are seen after an Israeli airstrike on Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip, May 13, 2021. (Abed Rahim Khatib/Flash90)
    Flames and smoke are seen after an Israeli airstrike on Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip, May 13, 2021. (Abed Rahim Khatib/Flash90)
  • A man inspects damage caused to a building in the southern coastal city of Ashkelon, after it was hit by a rocket fired by Palestinian terrorists in the Gaza Strip, May 14, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
    A man inspects damage caused to a building in the southern coastal city of Ashkelon, after it was hit by a rocket fired by Palestinian terrorists in the Gaza Strip, May 14, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
  • Smoke rises following Israeli missile strikes on Gaza City, Thursday, May 13, 2021. (AP Photo/Khalil Hamra)
    Smoke rises following Israeli missile strikes on Gaza City, Thursday, May 13, 2021. (AP Photo/Khalil Hamra)
  • An IDF artillery unit near the Israel-Gaza border in southern Israel, May 13, 2021. (Gili Yaari /Flash90)
    An IDF artillery unit near the Israel-Gaza border in southern Israel, May 13, 2021. (Gili Yaari /Flash90)
  • Rockets (R) are seen in the night sky fired towards Israel from Beit Lahia in the northern Gaza Strip on May 14, 2021, while Iron Dome interceptors rise to meet them. (Photo by ANAS BABA / AFP)
    Rockets (R) are seen in the night sky fired towards Israel from Beit Lahia in the northern Gaza Strip on May 14, 2021, while Iron Dome interceptors rise to meet them. (Photo by ANAS BABA / AFP)
  • Paramedics observe a fire in Ramle, May 13, 2021. (United Hatzalah)
    Paramedics observe a fire in Ramle, May 13, 2021. (United Hatzalah)
  • A home in Ashkelon damaged by rocket fire, which left a caregiver dead and an elderly woman badly injured, Tuesday May 12, 2021 (Lazar Berman. Times of Israel)
    A home in Ashkelon damaged by rocket fire, which left a caregiver dead and an elderly woman badly injured, Tuesday May 12, 2021 (Lazar Berman. Times of Israel)
  • Palestinians check the damage caused after a 15-floor building was destroyed in an Israeli airstrike in Gaza City, May 13, 2021. (Atia Mohammed/Flash90)
    Palestinians check the damage caused after a 15-floor building was destroyed in an Israeli airstrike in Gaza City, May 13, 2021. (Atia Mohammed/Flash90)

The Times of Israel is liveblogging Friday’s events as they unfold. For a recap of Thursday’s events, click here.

One lightly injured after rocket falls nearby in Beersheba

During the last rocket barrage fired by terror groups in Gaza toward the city of Beersheba, one rocket struck near the Route 40 highway.

One person was lightly wounded, according to medics. Police say part of the highway near Goral Junction has been closed as officers secure the scene.

Fresh rocket sirens sound in Beersheba and surrounding towns

Fresh rockets sirens have been set off in Beersheba and the surrounding towns, sending thousands of Israelis into bomb shelters.

WATCH: Dozens of Lebanese rioters break through border fence, briefly cross into Israel

Lebanese protesters demonstrate along their border with Israel on May 14, 2021. (Scren capture/Twitter)

Lebanese protesters demonstrate along their border with Israel on May 14, 2021. (Scren capture/Twitter)

The IDF says its tanks fired warning shots toward a number of rioters who crossed from Lebanon into Israeli territory.

The suspects sabotaged the border fence and set a fire in the area before returning to Lebanese territory, the military says.

There are no reports of injuries.

While the IDF speaks of “a number” of protesters, footage from the scene shows dozens crossing into Israel. A handful of the protesters were waving Hezbollah flags.

The incident took place near the Israeli town of Metula.

Gaza terrorists disrupt funeral of 5-year-old victim of rocket attack

As a funeral is held in Kiryat Gat for Ido Avigal — a 5-year-old from Sderot killed Wednesday in a rocket attack — Palestinian terrorists in Gaza fire projectiles at the southern city, forcing mourners to take cover.

The sirens sounded as Ido’s father, Asaf Avigal, finishes a eulogy in which he apologized for not having protected his son, who was killed by shrapnel that pierced through the window of the fortified room where he was sheltering with his mother and sister, both of whom were injured.

Ido Avigal, who was killed in his home in Sderot by a rocket fired from Gaza, May 12, 2021. (Twitter)

The Kan public broadcaster says the timing of the rocket fire was clearly aimed at disrupting the funeral, as Kiryat Gat has not been frequently targeted during the current round of fighting in Gaza, which erupted Monday when the Strip’s Hamas rulers fired rockets at Jerusalem.

Cops arrest 3 suspects after overnight violence in Lod

Police announce the arrests of three suspects over last night’s violence in the Jewish-Arab city of Lod, which the cops say included live fire at officers and the burning of buildings — including synagogues.

“The investigation is continuing,” a police statement says.

More rocket sirens ring out in southern Israeli communities

Rocket sirens sound in numerous communities in southern Israel, including Kiryat Malachi, which the Gaza-ruling Hamas terror group earlier claimed to target.

Calling to ‘redeem’ Al-Aqsa, hundreds of Jordanians run toward border with Israel

Hundreds of Jordanians run toward the border with Israel, breaking through a police checkpoint on the Jordanian side, local Jordanian media report.

“With spirit and blood, we shall redeem you, O Aqsa!” the crowd chants, referring to the mosque on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem’s Old City.

Large numbers of Jordanian security forces appear to be present on the scene.

Thousands of Jordanians also rally in the capital Amman after Friday prayers in protest of Israeli actions in Jerusalem and the current fighting between Israel and the Gaza Strip’s Hamas rulers.

IDF said to target Gaza homes of senior Hamas commanders

Israeli aircraft target the Gaza Strip homes of high-ranking Hamas commanders, including the deputy commander of the group’s armed wing, according to Arabic-language media reports.

“Israeli warplanes bombed the homes of the deputy commander of the Al-Qassam Brigades, Marwan Issa, and commander, Ayman Nofal, in the Al-Bureij refugee camp in Gaza City,” Qatar-based Al Araby TV reports.

It is not immediately clear if Issa or Nofal were killed in the strikes.

Gantz urges Facebook, TikTok executives to crack down on social media incitement

Defense Minister Benny Gantz speaks with executives from Facebook and TikTok, urging them to take a more proactive to removing content that incites violence and terrorism.

“These are measures that will directly prevent the violence that is being intentionally stirred through social media by extremist elements that are seeking to do damage to our country. We are in a moment of social emergency, and we expect your assistance,” Gantz, who is also justice minister, is quoted saying in a statement from his office.

The statement says the executives of the social media firms vowed to “quickly and effectively” address incitement and that they also “relayed their condolences to the Israeli families that have lost loved ones” in the rocket attacks by Palestinian terrorists in Gaza.

Meretz MK walks out of TV studio for hosting extremist lawmaker accused of fueling violence

Left-wing Meretz MK Tamar Zandberg walks out of the Channel 12 news studio for hosting extremist MK Itamar Ben Gvir, a member of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s right-wing religious bloc who the police chief has blamed for the “internal intifada” in Jewish-Arab cities.

Yesh Atid MK Karin Elharrar says she would also leave the studio but there is no wheelchair ramp.

Hamas claims responsibility for latest rocket volley

The military wing of the Gaza-ruling Hamas terror group claims responsibility for the latest rocket barrage fired at Israel.

The Al-Qassam Brigades say they targeted the southern city of Kiryat Malachi. However, the most northern location that sirens sounded was Kiryat Gat, some 10 kilometers northeast of Kiryat Malachi.

Defense minister meets with IDF chief, other security officials on Gaza fighting

Defense Minister Benny Gantz holds a situational assessment with IDF Chief of Staff Aviv Kohavi and other top security officials “after last night’s attacks and ahead of the continuation of the campaign” in Gaza, his office says.

In this handout photo from his office, Defense Minister Benny Gantz (C), IDF Chief of Staff Aviv Kohavi (R) hold an assessment on the ongoing fighting between Israel and Palestinian terror groups in the Gaza Strip, May 14, 2021. (Elad Malka)

Israeli air, ground forces bombard northern Gaza in heaviest strike yet

May 14, 2021

For 4th night, Hamas fires rockets at central, southern Israel; 87-year-old woman dies after hitting her head while running to bomb shelter; PM vows to exact heavy price from Hamas

An explosion lights the sky following an Israeli air strike on Beit Lahia in the northern Gaza Strip early on May 14, 2021. (MOHAMMED ABED / AFP)

An explosion lights the sky following an Israeli air strike on Beit Lahia in the northern Gaza Strip early on May 14, 2021. (MOHAMMED ABED / AFP)

The Israel Defense Forces launched a massive bombardment on a large number of targets in the northern Gaza Strip shortly around midnight on Thursday, using both ground and air forces, the military said. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu vowed to exact a “very heavy price” from Hamas, the Gaza-ruling terror group which has fired some 1,750 projectiles at Israel since Monday afternoon.

After initial confusion on the matter, the IDF clarified that it had not launched a ground invasion into the Gaza Strip during the attack, which reportedly lasted over an hour.

The IDF did not immediately identify its targets in the strike, saying it would do so shortly.

Following the Israeli assault, the Hamas terror group launched multiple waves of rocket attacks on southern and central Israel, firing rockets toward the cities of Ashkelon, Ashdod, Beersheba, Yavne and many surrounding communities.

At least one rocket directly struck a building in the city of Ashkelon, seriously injuring a 60-year-old man, Israeli authorities said. Another landed next to a car, damaging it.

Some of the incoming projectiles were intercepted by the Iron Dome missile defense system and several landed in open areas, where they caused no damage or injuries.

“I said that we would exact a very heavy price from Hamas and the other terrorist organizations. We are doing so and we will continue to do so with great force,” he said. “The last word has not been said and this operation will continue as long as necessary in order to restore the quiet and security to the State of Israel.

According to the IDF, some 1,750 rockets and mortar shells have been fired toward Israel by terror groups in Gaza since fighting broke out on Monday evening, including 190 projectiles launched between 7 a.m. and 7 p.m. on Thursday. Around 300 of the total projectiles launched landed inside the Palestinian enclave, and in at least one case killed a number of children when the rocket hit a school.

The IDF on Thursday said it had so far bombed upwards of 600 targets in the Strip, over 100 of them in the previous 24 hours.

Earlier in the evening, terrorists in the Strip also launched multiple barrages of rockets toward southern and central Israel, at Ben Gurion Airport and the Shfela region, as well as Tel Aviv. Another barrage targeted Ashdod and Ashkelon, with one rocket landing in the latter city.

A firefighter stands over the impact site of a rocket fired from the Gaza Strip that hit a building in the city of Ashkelon, injuring a man, on May 14, 2021. (Fire and Rescue Services)

Another round of rockets aimed at the southern city of Beersheva, with at least three projectiles hitting buildings.

The majority of the rockets were intercepted by the Iron Dome air-defense system.

During one of the rocket barrages, an 87-year-old woman died after falling and hitting her head while running to a shelter in Shtulim, near Ashdod, Magen David Adom paramedics reported.

The increased death toll came after a number of reports in local Palestinian media of Israeli airstrikes targeting residential areas. Some of those reports claimed entire families were killed in some cases.

Israel maintains that most of those killed in Gaza were terror group members or, in a few cases, died from errant Palestinian rockets.

Earlier Thursday, Hamas operatives fired rockets at the Tel Aviv area and Beersheba and toward Eilat’s airport, in what the terror group said was an act of revenge for its commanders who were killed in Israeli strikes this week.

A few dozen rockets were fired in the attacks, which triggered sirens throughout central Israel and the northern Negev desert.

Earlier in the day, Israel closed Ben Gurion International Airport to incoming passenger flights, diverting them to Eilat’s Ramon Airport. Hamas said it subsequently targeted that airfield as well.

No sirens were heard in the rocket fire toward Eilat, as the projectile landed in an open area far outside the city, where it caused neither injury nor damage.

The military denied Hamas’s claims — widely echoed by Israeli media — that it fired some 100 rockets at central and southern Israel in the afternoon barrage. Rather, the Israel Defense Forces said, the terror group in fact launched 25 to 30 rockets in the attack.

Hamas also said it had launched a number of “suicide drones,” unmanned aerial vehicles carrying explosive payloads, into southern Israel from the Gaza Strip. The military confirmed downing at least two such drones. Channel 12 news reported that the drones appeared to have primitive capabilities and did not seem to represent a serious danger.

On Wednesday morning, the Israel Defense Forces and Shin Bet security service conducted a large-scale operation targeting a number of top commanders in Hamas, including the head of its Gaza City battalion and several people involved in its weapons production operations in the Strip, the military said.

Following the Thursday afternoon rocket fire, the IDF hit a number of sites in Gaza, including one the military said served as the main command center for Hamas’s surveillance network.

It was not immediately clear how many Hamas members were killed in the strike, which the IDF said occurred as dozens of people were in the building.

The IDF said it also launched strikes on four “operations apartments” of senior Hamas commanders in Gaza: the deputy commander of Hamas’s Jabalia regiment in the northern Strip, as well as three company commanders in northern and central Gaza.

Smoke and flames rise after an Israeli airstrike in the southern Gaza Strip, May 12, 2021. (Abed Rahim Khatib/Flash90)

All the apartments were allegedly used to direct recent rocket attacks at Israeli cities.

The military also said it bombed the “operational apartment” of Samer Abu Daka, the head of Hamas’s drone operations, after the drone launches.

The military said the apartment was used for military purposes. It also said the same apartment was targeted in the 2014 war.

The IDF also said it struck a main Hamas rocket production site and a military post of the Hamas naval force in the central Gaza Strip. In addition, a number of other weapons production sites were struck throughout the day, according to the military.

Also Thursday the IDF said it bombed four Hamas cells preparing to launch anti-tank guided missiles at targets in southern Israel over the course of two hours, striking the teams before they could carry out their attacks. The military said it bombed an anti-tank guided missile launcher that had been positioned on an apartment building in the southern Gaza Strip, accusing Hamas of using the occupants as human shields.

Hundreds of the projectiles fired from Gaza have been intercepted by Iron Dome missile defense batteries, according to the military, which refuses to give precise statistics on the matter as they could be used by terror groups to find ways to outmaneuver the system.

The IDF on Thursday said the air defense system had a roughly 90 percent interception rate of projectiles heading toward populated areas. Terror groups have been launching rockets in massive barrages to try and overwhelm the system.

In the most serious rocket attack overnight Wednesday-Thursday, two people were moderately injured by shrapnel and six others were treated for smoke inhalation after a Hamas rocket from Gaza struck in between homes in Petah Tikva shortly after midnight, sparking a fire. The buildings near the fire sustained moderate damage.

On Wednesday night and Thursday morning, the Israeli military expanded its targets in the Gaza Strip to include institutions that Hamas uses to rule the Palestinian enclave, notably its treasury and banks, IDF Spokesperson Hidai Zilberman said.

In addition, the Israeli Air Force bombed Hamas’s internal security headquarters used in counterintelligence operations, destroyed the home of Iyad Tayeb, a battalion commander in Hamas’s military wing, and killed a squad of Hamas’s naval forces, Zilberman said.

Palestinians assess the damage caused by an Israeli airstrike at the Islamic National Bank of the Hamas terror group in Khan Younis, in the southern Gaza Strip, on May 13, 2021 (Abed Rahim Khatib/Flash90)

The IDF’s campaign in Gaza, officially dubbed Operation Guardian of the Walls, has so far been conducted primarily by airstrikes, as well as artillery shellings from the ground and the sea, but the military said it was preparing for the possibility of a ground incursion.

Zilberman said plans for a ground invasion would be presented for approval by the IDF General Staff on Thursday, at which point they would be given to Israel’s political leadership for consideration.

The IDF in recent days has deployed additional ground troops — from the Paratroopers Brigade, Golani Infantry Brigade and 7th Armored Brigade — to the Gaza border, sending with them tanks and armored personnel carriers, which could be seen being transported by trucks on highways throughout southern Israel.

On Thursday the army said it was canceling all weekend leave for combat soldiers as it prepared for the possibility of a ground operation. Zilberman said the military had called up 7,000 reservists. Roughly half of those were troops from air defense, artillery and medical units, and half serve in administrative and intelligence positions, Zilberman said.

In the evening, Defense Minister Benny Gantz gave the military approval to call up as many as 9,000 reservists if needed, his office said.

The reservists would come from combat units and command center operators, to serve in the Southern Command, Central Command, and Northern Command so that soldiers regularly stationed there could be sent on other missions, according to his office.

Rockets continue to pummel Israel’s south after night of intense fighting

May 14, 2021

IDF says 2,000 projectiles launched since Monday; bomb shelter requirement lifted for Israelis living near Gaza; 160 aircraft target Hamas tunnels in largest bombardment yet

Smoke rises following Israeli missile strikes on Gaza City, Thursday, May 13, 2021. (AP Photo/Khalil Hamra)

Smoke rises following Israeli missile strikes on Gaza City, Thursday, May 13, 2021. (AP Photo/Khalil Hamra)

The Times of Israel is liveblogging Friday’s events as they unfold. For a recap of Thursday’s events, click here.

Terror groups have fired 2,000 rockets since start of fighting — IDF

Palestinian terrorists in the Gaza Strip have fired roughly 2,000 rockets and mortar shells toward Israel since the outbreak of fighting on Monday, according to the Israel Defense Forces.

The military says that over the course of Thursday night and Friday morning, an additional 220 projectiles were fired from the enclave, with 30 of them failing to cross the border and landing within the Strip.

According to the IDF, dozens of incoming rockets heading toward populated areas were intercepted by the Iron Dome missile defense system. A number, however, struck within populated areas overnight, one of which seriously injured an Israeli man in his 50s.

Soldier beaten in Jaffa undergoes surgery, still in serious condition

An IDF soldier viciously beaten last night by Arab rioters in Jaffa underwent surgery overnight to treat his serious head injuries, Tel Aviv’s Ichilov hospital says.

The medical center says three top neurosurgeons were called in to conduct the complex operation and managed to stop the heavy internal bleeding.

The 19-year-old remains hospitalized in an intensive care unit.

IDF says 160 aircraft dropped 450 missiles on Gaza tunnel network

Some 160 aircraft flying simultaneously conducted a massive attack on a network of tunnels dug by the Hamas terror group under Gaza City around midnight in the largest Israeli strike since the outbreak of fighting earlier this week, the military says.

According to the Israel Defense Forces, in this air campaign, which lasted nearly 40 minutes, some 450 missiles were dropped on 150 targets in northern Gaza. The military says it is still working to determine the extent of the damage caused to the underground infrastructure, which IDF Spokesperson Hidai Zilberman says was a “strategic asset” to Hamas.

In addition to the aerial strike, Israeli tanks, artillery cannons and infantrymen on the Gaza border conducted accompanying barrages at Hamas targets that came out during the assault to attack Israeli targets, Zilberman says, clarifying that the ground troops remain on Israel’s side of the border and did not enter the Gaza Strip, despite earlier claims to the contrary by the IDF.

In total, some 500 artillery shells — some flares and explosives — along with 50 tank shells, were fired during this subsequent bombardment. Palestinians in Gaza report that the Israeli strike lasted over an hour and caused a number of casualties, though an exact tally is not immediately available.

Zilberman says the operation is the result of large amounts of intelligence and careful planning.

Hamas ministry says 115 Palestinians dead since start of fighting

The Hamas-run Gaza Health Ministry says 115 Palestinians have died in the enclave since fighting started Monday.

It adds that 600 have been injured.

Israel maintains that most fatalities are either members of terror groups or killed by errant Hamas rocket fire that landed inside the Strip.

Fresh rocket alarms heard in Ashdod, Ashkelon, Sderot

Rocket sirens blare in Ashdod, Sderot and the Sha’ar Hanegev region after a night of intense fighting.

Reports say it is a heavy barrage.

There are no immediate reports of impacts or casualties.

IDF lifts order to residents of Gaza-adjacent communities to stay in bomb shelter

The Israel Defense Forces removes a requirement for anyone within four kilometers (2.5 miles) of the Gaza border to remain in a bomb shelter.

This comes five and a half hours after the directive was issued.

The military says people in this area no longer need to remain in bomb shelters, but should stay in close proximity to a protected space, so they can quickly enter if there’s an attack.

IDF shoots down Hamas drone

The IDF says its air defenses have shot down a Hamas drone that crossed into Israel.

“The airforce tracked the drone until it was downed,” the army says.

The incident comes a day after an F-16 shot down an armed Hamas “suicide drone” that tried to enter Israeli airspace.

Heavy barrage hits Tel Aviv, Beersheba; Hamas calls it revenge for slain leaders

May 13, 2021

Child hurt running to shelter; terror group says it used long-range missile in failed attack on Eilat, and launched new ‘suicide drones’; IDF hits four anti-tank missile teams

Rockets are launched towards Israel from the southern Gaza Strip, on May 12, 2021 (Abed Rahim Khatib/Flash90)

Rockets are launched towards Israel from the southern Gaza Strip, on May 12, 2021 (Abed Rahim Khatib/Flash90)

Hamas operatives fired large fusillades of rockets at the Tel Aviv area and Beersheba and toward Eilat’s airport on Thursday afternoon, in what the terror group said was an act of revenge for its commanders who were killed in Israeli strikes this week.

Dozens of rockets were fired in the attacks, which triggered sirens throughout central Israel and the northern Negev desert. A 60-year-old woman was lightly injured by shrapnel in the town of Kiryat Gat in southern Israel, along with a 7-year-old boy and 40-year-old woman who were injured while running to bomb shelters, medics said.

Earlier in the day, Israel closed Ben Gurion International Airport to incoming passenger flights, diverting them to Eilat’s Ramon Airport. Hamas said it subsequently targeted that airfield as well.

“By the order of the commander of the Qassam Staff Abu Khaled Muhammad al-Deif, rockets were launched towards Ramon Airport with the 250 Ayyash missile with a range of 250 kilometers,” Abu Obeida, spokesman for Hamas’s military wing, the Al-Qassam Brigades, claimed in a statement, referring to an allegedly new Hamas rocket with a far greater range than ones previously known to be in the terror group’s arsenal.

No sirens were heard in the rocket fire toward Eilat, as the projectile landed in an open area far outside the city, where it caused neither injury nor damage.

Hamas also said it had launched a number of “suicide drones,” unmanned aerial vehicles carrying explosive payloads, into southern Israel from the Gaza Strip. The military confirmed downing at least two such drones. Channel 12 news reported that the drones appeared to have primitive capabilities and did not seem to represent a serious danger.

Obeida said the attacks were “part of our response to the assassination of our heroic leaders and engineers,” adding that the rockets used were partially developed by those who were killed.

On Wednesday morning, the Israel Defense Forces and Shin Bet security service conducted a large-scale operation targeting a number of top commanders in Hamas, including the head of its Gaza City battalion and several people involved in its weapons production operations in the Strip, the military said.

Israelis take cover in a shop in Bat Yam as a siren rings during a rocket attack from the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip on May 13, 2021 (Gil COHEN-MAGEN / AFP)

On Thursday afternoon Israeli Ambassador to the UN Gilad Erdan sent a letter to the Security Council calling on the top UN body to strongly condemn the ongoing rocket fire from Gaza and uphold Israel’s right to defend itself.

“The indiscriminate rocket fire constitutes a double war crime,” Erdan wrote. “It is clear that Hamas premeditated this escalation in violence and terrorism and is happy to pay the price of casualties on both sides in order to strengthen itself politically.”

Also Thursday the IDF said it bombed four Hamas cells preparing to launch anti-tank guided missiles at targets in southern Israel over the course of two hours, striking the teams before they could carry out their attacks. The military said it also bombed an anti-tank guided missile launcher that had been positioned on an apartment building in the southern Gaza Strip, accusing Hamas of using the occupants as human shields.

According to the IDF, over 1,500 rockets and mortar shells have been fired toward Israel by terror groups in the Gaza Strip since fighting broke out on Monday evening. Roughly a fifth of those landed inside the Palestinian enclave, and in at least one case killed a number of children when the rocket hit a school.

Hundreds of the incoming projectiles have been intercepted by Iron Dome missile defense batteries, according to the military, which refuses to give precise statistics on the matter as they could be used by terror groups to find ways to outmaneuver the system.

The IDF on Thursday said the air defense system had a roughly 90 percent interception rate of projectiles heading toward populated areas. Terror groups have been launching rockets in massive barrages to try and overwhelm the system.

In the most serious rocket attack overnight, two people were moderately injured by shrapnel and six others were treated for smoke inhalation after a Hamas rocket from Gaza struck in between homes in Petah Tikva shortly after midnight, sparking a fire. The buildings near the fire sustained moderate damage.

On Wednesday night and Thursday morning, the Israeli military expanded its targets in the Gaza Strip to include institutions that Hamas uses to rule the Palestinian enclave, notably its treasury and banks, IDF Spokesperson Hidai Zilberman said.

In addition, the Israeli Air Force bombed Hamas’s internal security headquarters used in counterintelligence operations, destroyed the home of Iyad Tayeb, a battalion commander in Hamas’s military wing, and killed a squad of Hamas’s naval forces, Zilberman said.

Smoke and flames rise after an Israeli airstrike in the southern Gaza Strip, May 12, 2021. (Abed Rahim Khatib/Flash90)

In one case in the predawn hours of Thursday morning, the IDF destroyed a Hamas bunker that had been built under a school “and in proximity to other civilian buildings.”

According to Zilberman, the IDF has destroyed most of Hamas’s domestic rocket production capabilities, bombing a large number of weapons production and storage facilities. However, he said that the military will struggle to continue striking significant weapons caches, which are spread throughout the Strip. “If there were any warehouses with 100 rockets, they were destroyed in the first day of the operation,” Zilberman said.

The IDF on Thursday said it had so far bombed upwards of 600 targets in the Strip, over 100 of them in the previous 24 hours.

Palestinians assess the damage caused by an Israeli airstrike at the Islamic National Bank of the Hamas terror group in Khan Younis , in the southern Gaza Strip, on May 13, 2021 (Abed Rahim Khatib/Flash90)

The IDF’s campaign in Gaza, officially dubbed Operation Guardian of the Walls, has so far been conducted primarily by airstrikes, as well as artillery shellings from the ground and the sea, but the military said it was preparing for the possibility of a ground incursion.

Zilberman said plans for a ground invasion would be presented for approval by the IDF General Staff on Thursday, at which point they would be given to Israel’s political leadership for consideration.

The IDF in recent days has deployed additional ground troops — from the Paratroopers Brigade, Golani Infantry Brigade and 7th Armored Brigade — to the Gaza border, sending with them tanks and armored personnel carriers, which could be seen being transported by trucks on highways throughout southern Israel.

On Thursday the army said it was canceling all weekend leave for combat soldiers as it prepared for the possibility of a ground operation. Zilberman said the military had called up 7,000 reservists. Roughly half of those were troops from air defense, artillery and medical units, and half serve in administrative and intelligence positions, Zilberman said.

A total of seven people have been killed in Israel, including four people who died on Wednesday, among them a soldier killed by an anti-tank missile and a 5-year-old boy hit by shrapnel in Sderot.

Gaza’s Hamas-run Health Ministry said the death toll there rose to 72 Palestinians, including 16 children, Thursday. The IDF said dozens of those killed were members of terrorist groups, some of whom were actively preparing to launch attacks on Israel when they were hit.

The Palestinian Islamic Jihad confirmed the deaths of seven of its members, while Hamas acknowledged that a top commander and several other members were killed. Israel and a Palestinian human rights group, Defense for Children, have said that several of the civilians were killed by Hamas rockets falling short inside Gaza, not by Israeli attacks, though Defense for Children does claim at least some of the children were killed by Israeli strikes.

The Israeli military also claims the number of terrorists killed so far is much higher than Hamas has acknowledged.