By Jon Dougherty
As many as 600 rockets were fired from Gaza deep into Israel on Saturday and Sunday by Iran-linked factions including Hamas, killing three Israelis and wounding several others, which sparked an equally massive counterstrike by the Jewish state.
According to several reports, Israeli forces have killed a top Hamas leader — the terrorist group’s financial liaison to Iran — as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu ordered wider strikes on Sunday as well as the deployment of extra troops around Gaza.
The attacks come as Israel prepares to celebrate their Memorial Day and Independence Day this week. Israel is also scheduled to host the Eurovision singing contest later this month, theÂ Associated PressÂ reported. The attacks could deter travelers from visiting the area and taking part in the festivities. Gazans are also preparing to begin Ramadan, the holy Muslim month of fasting, on Monday.
“For Eurovision, which is a cultural event, this cannot be a concern. In general, for Israel doesn’t have an interest in launching a [full scale] military campaign,” Israel’s minister of regional cooperation, Tzachi Hanegbi, toldÂ Haartez.
“All of this year we’ve made endless efforts, and even sustained domestic criticism over the fact that the goal, as presented by the political leadership, has been to come to an arrangement and understandings that will spare us casualties. But it wouldn’t occur to me that in a cabinet meeting, or a security forum, that they would consider a musical event, an entertainment event,” Hanegbi added.
The Associated PressÂ discussed the origins of the current fighting:
The fighting, the most intense between the sides in months, came as leaders from Hamas, the militant group that rules Gaza, and the smaller armed faction Islamic Jihad, were in Cairo for talks with Egyptian mediators aimed at preventing a fraying cease-fire from collapsing altogether.
Israel and Hamas, an Islamic group that opposes Israelâ€™s existence, have fought three wars and dozens of smaller flare-ups of violence since Hamas seized control of Gaza in 2007. They engaged in several days of heavy fighting in March before Egypt brokered a truce in which Israel agreed to ease a crippling blockade on Gaza in exchange for a halt in rocket fire. In recent days, Hamas accused Israel of reneging on its pledges as militants began to fire rockets into Israel.
Anticipating days of fighting ahead, the Israeli army has sent tank reinforcements to the Gaza border, perÂ TheÂ Times of Israel:
The Israeli military sent an additional tank brigade to the Gaza border on Sunday and prepared for fighting in the coming days after over 450 rockets and mortar shells were fired into southern Israel from the Gaza Strip over the course of 24 hours this weekend, killing an Israeli man and injuring several others.
In response to the attacks, the Israel Defense Forces said it bombed over 220 military targets in the Strip, causing considerable damage to terror groupsâ€™ facilities, but relatively few casualties in the densely populated coastal enclave.
Shortly after the IDF killed Iranian liaison Hamed Ahmed Abed Khudri, the Cabinet ordered the military to â€œintensify the attacks against the terrorist organizations in Gaza” — which was seen by many as instructions to go after additional Hamas leaders.
We just targeted Hamed Ahmed Khudari, a Gazan terrorist responsible for transferring Iranian funds to Hamas & PIJ in Gaza, helping fund their rocket fire at Israelis.
Transferring Iranian money to Hamas & the PIJ doesn’t make you a businessman. It makes you a terrorist. pic.twitter.com/WvGEB16r4h
— Israel Defense Forces (@IDF) May 5, 2019
A Hamas field commander, Hamed el-Hadary, 39, was also killed by IDF forces, theÂ Jerusalem Post reported.
The paper added:
According to IDF Spokesperson Brig.-Gen. Ronen Manelis, Hadaryâ€™s targeted assassination was approved by the political echelon and was a â€œsignificant blow to the transfer of funds from outside the Strip to terror organizations.â€
Manelis said that over 280 targets belonging toÂ Palestinian Islamic JihadÂ and Hamas were struck by IAF jets and tanks in retaliation for the over 600 rockets fired from the Gaza Strip to Israel.Â
Of the 600, over 150 have been intercepted, and 35 struck in urban areas in Israel. The large majority landed in open areas.
â€œWe are prepared for additional days of fighting,â€ Manelis told reporters during a conference call. He added that the military is â€œpreparedâ€ for rocket fire on central Israel, including Tel Aviv.
- Follow Jon Dougherty on Twitter at @JonDougherty10