Strikes come in response to two rocket attacks from Gaza in last two days. Air Force reports direct hits
'Either Hamas puts an end to rockets, or we do'
PM Netanyahu threatens Hamas after 16 rockets hit southern Israel overnight and early morning
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu threatened Hamas Monday in response to a barrage of rockets fired at Israel overnight and in the morning.
"If the quiet achieved in wake of Pillar of Defense will be broken, and the rocket fire continues, then there will be two options: Either Hamas puts an end to rocket fire, or we put an end to it," Netanyahu said.
Finance Minister Yair Lapid said: "Hamas is responsible for every rocket fired from Gaza, and Hamas will pay the price."
Rocket fire from the Gaza Strip continued to strike Israel Sunday night and early Monday morning, hitting open areas in the Eshkol Regional Council, hours after the Israeli military targeted terrorists in the coastal enclave.
The most recent attacks, fired shortly after seven o'clock, included several rockets all of which landed in open areas, causing no injuries and minor damage to two houses. 16 rockets were fired at Israel overnight and in the morning in total.
i24news correspondent Yoav Borowitz reported from the town of Sderot that authorities have decided to extend the school year, which was supposed to end Monday, until July 24th to ensure that 4,000 school kids remain safe in fortified buildings and do not wander the streets.
Early Monday morning, the Israeli military issued a statement saying that it struck terrorists “in the southern Gaza Strip, during their final preparations to launch rockets at civilian communities of southern Israel.”
Palestinian sources said an operative of the Hamas armed wing was killed in the attack and several others injured in a targeted hit at a terrorist cell behind some of the recent rocket attacks.
Recent days' rocket attacks represented an escalation on the Gaza front as for the first time since operation Pillar of Defense in November 2012, Hamas was believed to be directly responsible for the shooting.
The area that the rockets were fired from are considered to be firmly under the control of Hamas' military wing, known as the Izz-a-din al Kassam.
Up until now, Hamas had largely been careful to uphold the letter of the ceasefire agreement brokered by Egypt at the end of the operation and it was smaller terror groups like the Islamic Jihad and local salafi groups that did the firing.
“Hamas is responsible for the outrageous attacks originating from Gaza, and will be pursued as such,” Israeli military Spokesman Lt. Col. Peter Lerner said.
Prior to the Israeli strike two mortars from Gaza landed in southern Israel, which were followed by six rockets, two of which were intercepted by the Iron Dome anti-missile defense system over Netivot.
Earlier on Sunday, the Israel Air Force hit 12 sites in Gaza in response to a number of rockets fired at Israel over the weekend.
Netanyahu said on Thursday that Jerusalem now holds the Palestinian Authority responsible for curbing rocket fire from the Strip, since the PLO signed the unity government pact with Hamas.
Hamas threatens to re-take control of Gaza
On the political front, Hamas has threatened to retake the Strip, citing Palestinian Authority inaction.
Deputy Head of Hamas' Political Bureau Mousa Mohammed Abu Marzook wrote an open letter to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas Sunday warning him that Hamas may have to reclaim control of Gaza, "in order to provide security to the people of our nation."
Control of the strip ostensibly passed into the Palestinian Authority's hands with the formation of the unity government.
The letter was posted on Marzook's Facebook page and in it he blamed the PA and the unity government for only governing in the West Bank and ignoring the Gaza Strip.
According to the official, Hamas agreed to sign a reconciliation agreement but, "Abu Mazen [A.K.A Mahmoud Abbas] isn't interested in reconciliation and even if we gave him Gaza, he wouldn't take it."
He noted that since signing the unity pact last month, Abbas has yet to travel to Gaza.
"Who's responsible for opening the Rafah crossing? Who's responsible for concluding the siege against it, and who's responsible for its electricity?" he asked in his letter.
Lieberman proposes Israeli takeover of Gaza
Israel's Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman said Sunday the Israeli military should also consider re-taking full control of the Gaza Strip.
"We have to decide if we are heading to a scenario of re-taking full control of the strip,” Lieberman said in an interview with Army Radio. “We’ve seen that a limited operation just strengthens Hamas, so the alternative is clear. There is no scenario in between.”
Israel withdrew unilaterally from the Gaza Strip in 2005, but since then has carried out two major operations to remove terror threats from the area.
In preparation for a possible Israeli push into Gaza, armored Corps brigades were instructed to prepare for the possibility of being transferred to the Gaza Division, while the air force has deployed additional Iron Dome anti-missile batteries across the south.
Asked about such a possible campaign, the army's foreign media spokesman, Lt. Col. Peter Lerner, told i24news that given the escalation, the military has to prepare for any eventuality. "We hope for the best but prepare for the worst," he said.