IDF prepares ground troops for possible action in Gaza Strip
Israel prepared infantry troops along the Gaza border early Thursday for a possible ground invasion as the military launched additional airstrikes against Hamas targets – while the terror group renewed rocket fire into the central part of the country.
“We have started to prepare infantry and armored units for ground operations,” Lt. Col. Jonathan Cornicus told The Post in a phone interview from Petah Tikvah, a few miles east of Tel Aviv, where a Hamas rocket struck an apartment building, slightly injuring five people.
The Israel Defense Forces has deployed members of the Paratroopers, Golani Infantry and 7th Armored brigades to the border in preparation for a possible incursion.
“The chief of staff is inspecting those preparations and providing guidance,” Conricus said, referring to Lt. Gen. Aviv Kochavi.
On Wednesday night, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu informed the security cabinet that Israel officially rejected a Hamas proposal for a ceasefire, the Jerusalem Post reported.
Kochavi held a call with Gen. Mark Milley, chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, to update him on the operation, according to the outlet.
On Thursday morning, the IDF struck at least four terrorist cells that were planning to launch anti-tank guided missiles toward Israel, the Jerusalem Post reported.
“We have not been sitting idly by and waiting for the world to solve our problems. We have been attacking Hamas and Islamic Jihad,” Cornicus said, adding that the IDF has hit some 600 targets in the Gaza Strip in its campaign, officially dubbed Operation Guardian of the Walls.
“We have struck weapons-manufacturing facilities, training grounds, military bases, as well as command centers or staff centers,” he said.
Those are military targets used by Hamas as headquarters, either for the intelligence for their internal security, some of it for their finances, some of it for their operations in Judea and Samaria,” he added.
In cooperation with the Shin Bet security agency, the IDF also has killed at least 40 “operatives or combatants,” he said, including 10 members of the senior military leadership of Hamas.
We were able to surprise a lot of these terrorists who were hiding in various locations. We struck a significant blow to the senior military,” Cornicus said.
The Israeli air force toppled three high-rise buildings that the IDF said housed Hamas facilities after warning civilians to evacuate. One man was killed by an Israeli missile fired east of Khan Younis in southern Gaza, Reuters reported.
“IDF fighter jets and aircraft recently attacked the offices of the military intelligence of the terrorist organization Hamas in Rimal in the Gaza Strip,” the IDF said in a statement referring to an upscale neighborhood.
The owner of a five-story building said he got a call from the Israeli military on Thursday asking him to evacuate it before an airstrike brought it down.
“The building is residential, what is in to hit?” said the man, who spoke to the Associated Press on condition of anonymity.
The IDF later said the building housed intelligence offices used by Hamas.
The IDF said that dozens of those killed were terrorists and that some of the Palestinian fatalities were caused by misfired rockets that failed to reach Israel.
On the Israeli side, seven people have been killed, including a 21-year-old soldier and a 6-year-old boy.
More than 1,600 rockets have been fired at Israel since Monday, with 400 falling short, according to the latest figures from the military.
The Iron Dome aerial-defense system has had an interception rate of about 90 percent in knocking down projectiles that put people and vital infrastructure at risk, Cornicus said.
“The system has been an absolute lifesaver, no doubt about that,” he said.
As a result of the ongoing rocket attacks toward central Israel, the civil aviation authority said it was diverting all incoming passenger flights headed for Ben Gurion International Airport, near Tel Aviv, to Ramon airport in the south.
United, Delta and American Airlines have all canceled flights between the US and Tel Israel.
The IDF also said Hamas was using children as human shields in a school “in close in close proximity to civilian buildings including a hospital — to hide a terror tunnel.”
In a statement, it said the army “neutralized the terror tunnel so that Hamas can no longer hide behind innocent children.”
Israel accuses the terror group of deliberately placing military targets in densely populated areas to use civilians as human shields.
“There is basically a city beneath a city in Gaza,” Cornicus said. “There’s an elaborate network of tunnels by Hamas and Islamic Jihad – mostly in the areas that are far from the border. The tunnels are used mostly for defensive purposes as a way to be out of our sight.”
Meanwhile, Defense Minister Benny Gantz ordered the call-up of 10 reserve Border Patrol companies to aid police efforts to rein in clashes in Arab-Jewish towns throughout the country, the Times of Israel reported.
“We’re in a moment of emergency,” Gantz was quoted as saying. “At this time, there’s a need for massive reinforcements of the forces on the ground, which will be sent immediately to impose law and order.”
The mounting hostilities come as Palestinians marked the end of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan — and as Muslims mark Eid al-Fitr, the end of a month of daily fasting that is usually a festive time when families shop for new clothes and gather for large feasts.
Instead, Hamas urged the faithful to hold communal Eid prayers inside their homes or the nearest mosques instead of out in the open.
Hassan Abu Shaaban tried to lighten the mood by passing out candy to passers-by after prayers, but acknowledged “there is no atmosphere for Eid at all.”
“It is all airstrikes, destruction and devastation,” he said. “May God help everyone.”
Cornicus, meanwhile, said the IDF is “prepared to continue operations against Hamas, whose aggression is totally unacceptable. The purpose of our military operations is to show that in the clearest way.”