By Anna Ahronheim, JPOST
Defense Minister Naftali Bennett meets with IDF officials on January 28, 2020
(photo credit: DEFENSE MINISTRY)
Israel is “preparing a plan to fundamentally change the situation in the Gaza Strip” Defense Minister Naftali Bennett said following a night of deadly retaliatory air strikes against the Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) terror group in Syria and throughout the Strip after rockets were fired toward southern Israel throughout the evening on Sunday.
“We are preparing a plan to fundamentally change the situation in the Gaza Strip. I really understand the situation of the people of the South; they deserve peace and security,” Bennett said during a conference in Jerusalem on Monday.“We have eliminated at least six terrorists over the last day – not only in Gaza – but we have also made progress in hurting the source of the problem. But deterrence is not built in a moment,” he said.
Israeli Air Force fighter jets struck numerous PIJ targets south of the capital of Damascus on Sunday night, killing at least six terror operatives. Amid fears of fresh violence, the IDF’s Home Front Command announced that roads, schools and the train line near the Gaza Strip would be closed.
The areas and roads that are blocked are all agricultural access routes west of Road 232. In both directions, Highway 4 will also be closed from the Zikim Junction to the intersection of Kibbutz Netiv Haasara, Road 34 from Yad Mordechai Junction to the Kibbutz Nir Am and Road 232 from Kibbutz Mefalsim to Kfar Gaza Junction.
In addition, the entrance to Kobe Hill in Sderot, the Black Arrow Memorial, the Bells Hill, the Nazeemite Hill and the Lone Horseshoe Hill will also be banned. Zikim Beach is closed to the public.
Israel Railways said in a statement that trains between Ashkelon and Beersheba would stop operating and the stations in Sderot, Netivot and Ofakim would be closed.
Islamic Jihad identified two of the dead militants as 24-year-old Salim Salim and 23-year-old Ziad Mansour, and vowed to avenge their deaths. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported that another four pro-Iranian militia men were also killed in the strikes.
“This cowardly aggression in Damascus was a reflection of the enemy’s failure to confront our fighters inside occupied Palestine,” the group said in a statement, adding that “we promise to God that the response to this ugly crime will come.”
Among the targets hit included a compound which was “used as a hub of Islamic Jihad’s activity in Syria” as well as dozens of terror targets belonging to the group in the Strip.
According to the IDF, the strike against the PIJ compound in the area of Al Adleyeh south of Damascus targeted a site where the group conducts research and development of weapons, both by adapting them to manufacturing in the Gaza Strip as well as for local manufacturing in Syria.
At the site, the group also manufactured dozens of kilograms of AP, a modern fuel used in solid-propellant rockets, as well as operating a technical training camp for terror operatives from the Gaza Strip and from the North.
The Syrian regime said Israeli warplanes had fired missiles from outside Syrian airspace towards targets around Damascus.
“Once the missiles were discovered, they were [handled] with high efficiency, [made to be] deviating from their path. The majority were destroyed before reaching their targets,” a military source was quoted as saying by the official news agency SANA.
Dozens of PIJ terrorist targets were also struck by IAF jets, including underground infrastructures and compounds in the area of Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip that were used to store raw materials used to produce rockets.
In Khan Yunis, Israel struck the headquarters of the group’s Khan Yunis Brigade which included a compound for training with anti-tank missiles as well as military equipment used by the group’s naval commando force.
In Beit Lahia, a military training compound of the Islamic Jihad was also targeted.
“The attacks were carried out in response to the attempted terror attack this morning on the perimeter fence and the launching of rockets from the Gaza Strip into Israeli territory,” the military statement read.
“The IDF will respond to any terror acts of the Islamic Jihad that endanger Israeli civilians and harm its sovereignty. The IDF views the rocket attack towards Israeli territory with great severity, is prepared and will continue operating as necessary against attempts to harm Israeli civilians.”
Over 25 rockets were launched towards southern Israel in several barrages on Sunday evening. The IDF confirmed that it had struck a PIJ terror cell preparing to launch rockets from the northern part of the Strip. Palestinians reported that there were at least four injured in the strike.
“At this time, the IDF is striking terror sites belonging to the PIJ terror group in the Gaza Strip,” the military said at the time, adding that it would provide more information about the targets in the future.
Hamas and PIJ had earlier threatened to avenge the killing of a terrorist by the IDF after he tried to plant explosives along the Gaza border fence early Sunday morning.
Video from the scene uploaded to social media then showed a crowd of Palestinian youth throwing stones toward an Israeli bulldozer sent to retrieve the body of the dead suspect.
He was identified as 27-year-old Muhammed Ali al-Na’im, a commander in the Khan Younis area of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad’s military wing, the Al-Quds Brigade.