IAF warplanes hit Hamas targets in Gaza following mortar fire

Israeli Air Force warplanes struck five Hamas terror targets near the southern Gaza Strip city of Rafah on Wednesday evening, in response to mortar fire from the terror group at IDF troops on the border, the army said in a statement.

IDF Spokesman Lt. Col. Peter Lerner said in a statement that Israel “will continue to operate in order to protect the civilians of Israel from all Hamas terrorist threats above and beneath ground.”

“Our efforts to destroy the Hamas terror tunnel network, a grave violation of Israel’s sovereignty, will not cease or be deterred.”

The air strikes struck targets around Gaza’s derelict international airport and in nearby farming areas, without causing casualties, said the interior ministry for the Hamas-run Strip.

Just before the strikes were launched, Israeli officials warned Hamas to cease firing mortars at its troops on the Gaza border, or face a strong military response.

“We responded firmly, and we also conveyed stern messages to them,” senior defense officials told Ynet.

Hamas said in a statement that Israel bore “full responsibility” for the escalation in hostilities.

Israel’s warning came following seven instances of cross-border fire from Gaza in the past day, including five mortars fired at Israeli troops near the border. The soldiers responded with tank fire, with at least one shell reportedly striking a power station in the Gaza City neighborhood of Shejaiya. Another report said a shell struck a house in Gaza City as well.

Earlier in the day, following the initial cross-border exchanges, Hamas evacuated schools and headquarters in Gaza City.

The IDF also banned farmers from working along the border following Wednesday’s incidents.

The military said Wednesday that it was operating to locate Hamas attack tunnels burrowed beneath the border with southern Israel. Last month the IDF located and destroyed a tunnel discovered near the Kerem Shalom Crossing.

The IDF believes the recent attacks on troops on the border — including gunfire at engineering corps machinery operating near the fence — mark a bid by Hamas to prevent the army from locating and destroying tunnels the group has dug since summer 2014.

Israel’s Channel 10 indicated that the new flare-up at the border may have begun because Israel discovered “a tunnel or something.” Hamas has been digging attack tunnels toward, and possibly into Israel, rehabilitating and expanding the attack tunnel network destroyed by Israel in the 2014 war.

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Israel is determined to keep hunting down all the Hamas tunnels, and Hamas has the dilemma now of using them to attack Israel or risk Israel finding them, the TV report said. It added that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said recently that Israel had used new technology to uncover the Hamas tunnel dug into Israel last month, and that Hamas is worried that Israeli technology might indeed render its prized tunnel network vulnerable.

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