By Justin Cohen
- Terrorists fire more than 200 rockets deep into Israel
- Sirens in Tel Aviv as 40% of the country takes shelter
Israel has warned its biggest military crackdown on Hamas for two years will be further “expanded in the coming days” after hundreds of rockets were fired towards her citizens in the south and centre of the country.
Israelis in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem were forced to run to bomb shelters for the first time since 2012 on Tuesday as missiles continued to rain down on the country, hours after the increased terrorist barrage on the south sparked the launch of the IDF’s Operation Protective Edge the previous night.
More than 170 rockets were fired from the Palestinian-controlled territory on Tuesday and Wednesday alone, forcing the closure of summer camps and offices, and spreading fear as far south as Hadera and Zichron Yaakov 70 miles from Gaza.
Despite claims from Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas that Hamas was ready for a truce, the group last night said it had also attempted to hit Israel’s nuclear reactor in Dimona.
Israel’s military, meanwhile, said it had hit 550 targets including 60 launchers and 31 tunnels in the first 48 hours of the operation, with officials in Gaza suggesting 35 people had been killed and more than 100 wounded.
After Benjamin Netanyahu announced the call-up of around 40,000 reservists, all eyes were trained on the border amid warnings that further action, including a ground offensive, have not been ruled out.
Defence Minister Moshe Yaalon said: “The campaign against Hamas will expand further in the next few days, and the organisation will pay a very steep price. We will continue to hit Hamas and other terrorist organisations hard from the air, at sea and on the ground in order to ensure the security of the citizens of Israel.”
But the military offensive failed to prevent terror reaching central Israel, where only the Iron Dome system prevented eight missiles from falling on Ashdod, Ashkelon and Tel Aviv on Wednesday morning.
Hadas Aharon, a recent graduate of the IDC in Herzliya, was told by her boss to stay away from work at the Google campus in Tel Aviv on Wednesday.The previous night she was at home in Herzliya when the alarm sounded.
The 23-year-old told the Jewish News: “The entire building rushed to the staircase as there is no shelter. There were kids crying and shock as we didn’t expect to hear the siren in cities like Tel Aviv and Herzliya. My mum called me screaming to go back to their place where there is a shelter.”
Some were experiencing the code-red alarm for the first time. Zahava Raymond, 27, who made aliyah from London in January, has spent considerable time in the southern city of Beer Sheva.
She never imagined she would hear the alarm for the first time in her new home town of Jerusalem, as happened on Tuesday. “It was a shock and I was shaking but felt calm,” she said. “I pray Hamas stops and our citizens and soldiers will be safe.”
Thousands of parents worked from home yesterday after the rocket fire forced the cancellation of some kids’ summer camps where there was not sufficient shelter. But Tel Aviv remained defiant in the face of the ongoing threat, with locals reporting that the cafés and restaurants remained as busy as ever.
Modiin resident Jeremy Last said people were “constantly checking the news” but were determined to get on with their lives.
But he said rumours of “kidnappings” in his home town and the overall security situation resulted in considerable fear, even in an area where sirens are yet to sound.
“On Tuesday night the news bulletin suddenly announced there were simultaneous sirens in four cities. Some 30 long-range missiles had been fired at the same time. We thought we heard a bang so my wife and I hid in our one-year-old’s room – it’s the only reinforced place in the house. My wife’s worried and says she will leave Israel for a while with our daughter if it gets worse.”
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon was among those in the international community urging restraint on both sides, while insisting the rocket attacks “must stop”.
A White House spokesman said: “No country can accept rocket fire aimed at civilians, and we support Israel’s right to defend itself against these vicious attacks.”
In the UK, the Board of Deputies said “no country could tolerate” such terror. The Zionist Federation added: “We strongly support Israel at this time, as it attempts to bring an end to the blitzkrieg of rockets. Any actions Israel takes will be a defensive response to this act of war by Hamas.”
Charities have also stepped in to offer aid. British Emunah has launched an emergency appeal while Meir Panim has prepared special kids’ packs for children in bomb shelters and is also sending hot meals to reservists stationed on the front lines.
Meanwhile, JNF’s efforts include providing transport for families to leave the worst-affected areas for a day’s respite.