JERUSALEM—The Palestinian death toll rose this weekend as fierce fighting continued between Israel and terrorist organization Hamas in Gaza. On Sunday, 11 civilians including four children were killed in a Gaza home as the Israeli army targeted a Hamas militant.
After five days of fighting, the Israel Defense Force (IDF) says that 540 rockets have struck Israel, and more than 300 have been intercepted by its Iron Dome defense system.
On Sunday, alarms blared twice in Tel Aviv as rockets sailed in from the Gaza Strip. The rockets were intercepted before striking. On Friday, at least one rocket from Gaza landed near Jerusalem.
The Sunday rocket attacks on Tel Aviv marked the second time that the city has been targeted since fighting started. Galia Lavi, a 48 year-old feng shui consultant, was in class at Tel Aviv University when she heard the sirens.
“When we heard the alarm, we weren’t sure what to do, where to go,” said Lavi. “We went out of the class and followed others to the safe zone in the stairway. No one panicked, and then we heard the boom. After a few minutes we were back in class and found out in the news that [the rocket] was successfully intercepted.”
Lavi added that she felt “indifferent” hearing the sirens, which reflects the attitude of the majority of Israelis in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem.
Gaza has been pummeled by a barrage of missiles and rockets from land and sea in the past five days. Accounts of the number of casualties vary widely. The Gaza Strip death count stands at somewhere between 45 and 79. Three people in southern Israel have also been killed in the fighting.
During a press conference in Jerusalem Sunday, Israeli Vice Premier and Strategic Affairs Minister Moshe Yaalon said there are so few casualties in Israel thus far because the Iron Dome system is so effective.
“We have a very sophisticated early warning system,” said Yaalon. “It’s not because of the ineffectiveness of the rockets [that so few have caused serious damage]. That’s why we’re able to avoid casualties.”
The recent fighting was sparked by the death of Hamas military chief Ahmed Jabari in an Israeli airstrike Wednesday. In response, Hamas began firing hundreds of rockets into Israel from the Gaza Strip. The terrorist organization has ruled the Gaza since 2007.
On Friday, the Hamas headquarters was reduced to a smoking pile of rubble, including the office of the Hamas prime minister. The Hamas Ministry of Interior, the Hamas police compound, and a Hamas training facility in the northern Gaza Strip were also targeted.
On Saturday night, Israel continued to strike Gaza from the air and sea, targeting smuggling tunnels used to transport weapons, training bases, a command center, and a communications antenna. Israel said that the communications antenna was used by Hamas.
The IDF has been busy ramping up military forces. Numerous reports from foreign journalists near Gaza say that the Israeli military presence is building. In case of a military advance into Gaza, 75,000 army reserve troops have been authorized for deployment. So far, about 16,000 have been called up.
At the press conference Sunday, Yaalon said of the military buildup at the Gaza border that the Israeli army is “ready.”
On Sunday night, the U.S. Embassy in Tel Aviv sent out a message to American citizens that the embassy “will be operating at reduced staffing levels on Monday.” They also cryptically noted that embassy families south of Herziliya (just north of Tel Aviv) will be keeping their children home from school, and staffers in southern Israel have been temporarily relocated to Herziliya.
Over the weekend, Egypt’s prime minister and Tunisia’s foreign minister arrived in Gaza in a show of support for Hamas. Egypt hosted Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, as well as leaders from Qatar and Hamas to discuss the situation.
The Egyptian government has made an official request to the U.N. Security Council for an emergency meeting about the fighting.
With reporting by Ben Kaminsky in Tel Aviv
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