The Israel Defense forces on Friday launched Operation Breaking Dawn in the Gaza Strip, following days of tensions in the wake of the arrest of the leader of Palestinian Islamic Jihad in Judea and Samaria.
Israeli Prime Minister Yair Lapid said in a statement that the goal of the operation was “the elimination of a concrete threat” against civilians, as well as the targeting of terrorists and their sponsors.
“Anyone who tries to harm Israel should know: We will find you,” the premier said.
A senior Israeli source was quoted by media as saying that the mission was initiated with a view to thwarting an imminent large-scale terrorist attack.
According to the IDF, an airstrike on Friday killed senior PIJ commander Tayseer Jabari, who replaced Baha Abu al-Ata as the head of the terrorist group in northern Gaza after the latter’s assassination by the Israeli military in 2019.
The IDF said that some 15 PIJ terrorists had been killed in initial strikes targeting anti-tank missile operators and snipers in Gaza.
Meanwhile, the military has declared a “special situation” throughout the home front and warned residents within an 80-kilometer (50-mile) radius of Gaza, including those living in Tel Aviv, that there was a risk of rocket attacks.
Palestinian terrorists indeed began firing projectiles towards Israeli civilian areas at approximately 21:30 local time, as sirens blared across the country.
The IDF has reportedly deployed Iron Dome missile defense batteries to central Israel in anticipation of barrages and has called up 25,000 reserve troops.
“We will not allow anyone to threaten or harm the citizens of Israel. Whoever tries to do so will get hurt,” Defense Minister Benny Gantz said in reference to the ongoing military campaign.
Egyptian mediators on Tuesday were dispatched to Gaza, with Jerusalem having conveyed a message via the intermediaries to Hamas, which rules the Palestinian enclave, and PIJ, that it was not interested in an escalation.
However, with parts of the country’s South effectively closed for the last four days, diplomatic efforts to prevent the outbreak of fighting had been “exhausted,” Israeli media reported.
On Monday, Israeli forces launched an operation in Jenin that resulted in the arrest of Bassam al-Sa’adi, who leads PIJ in Judea and Samaria and is suspected of building terror cells in the area.
The Israeli forces came under fire, according to the IDF, and a number of terrorists were hit during the ensuing gun battle. At least one gunman—later claimed by PIJ as one of its members—was killed.
Khaled al-Batsh, head of the politburo of PIJ in Gaza, said on Wednesday: “We have every right to bomb Israel with our most advanced weapons and make the occupier pay a heavy price. We will not settle for attacking around Gaza, but we will bomb the center of the so-called State of Israel,” according to The Media Line.
A statement released jointly on Friday by several terrorist groups in Gaza warned that Israeli airstrikes “won’t go unpunished.”