Israeli Airstrikes Rock Gaza, Target Hamas Command, After Netanyahu Cut Short US Trip

As predicted, a major Israeli assault on the Gaza Strip is underway after an early Monday morning long-range rocket launch from the strip scored a direct hit on a home in central Israel. The Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) struck targets across the strip throughout the evening Monday, and targeted the offices of Hamas’ supreme leader, though there were no early reports of fatalities, but Gaza's Health Ministry cited at least seven wounded in the campaign. 

Israel says it's responding to an early Monday morning rocket launch from Gaza which destroyed a residential home in Mishmeret, an agricultural town north of Tel Aviv, which reportedly left at least seven Israelis injured, including children, after the family was able to escape the flaming building.

Buildings ablaze in Gaza City during reported Israeli strikes on March 25, 2019, via AFP

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced in the immediate aftermath of the prior Hamas attack that he would be returning to Tel Aviv from a visit to the United States, cutting short his trip to Washington, saying he would “respond forcefully” to the rocket attack, on the same morning President Trump signed an order officially recognizing Israeli sovereignty over the occupied Golan Heights, seized from Syria in 1967, in a move which Netanyahu also welcomed as "historic". 

“The [Israeli Defense Forces] has begun striking Hamas terror targets throughout the Gaza Strip,” the IDF confirmed in a statement.

Amidst the Israeli onslaught on Gaza, Israel opened public bomb shelters throughout most major cities, and its 'Iron Dome' missile defense systems appeared busy as Hamas responded to the Israeli assault with its own rockets. According to the AP, by Monday evening Hamas had fired at least ten rockets since the IDF aerial attack began. 

“Israel will not tolerate this. I will not tolerate this,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said while meeting with Trump at the White House moments before he departed for Tel Aviv. “Israel is responding forcefully to this wanton aggression,” he said. “We will do whatever we must do to defend our people and defend our state.”

Hamas leadership has been widely reported to be hiding in anticipation of the strikes. According to the AP, the IDF is now especially going after Hamas military commanders

Several airstrikes rocked Gaza, including an explosion that destroyed the office of Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh. The Israeli military issued a statement confirming it bombed the building, which had “served as an office for many military meetings.” An earlier blast destroyed a multistory building in Gaza City that Israel said had served as a Hamas military intelligence headquarters.

It is expected that the IDF will lead a "strong Israeli military retaliation" especially as it comes just two weeks ahead of Netanyahu's most high pressure reelection campaign of his career, and as the prime minister faces down indictments related to multiple corruption charges and a rising opposition.

Monday's attack came less than two weeks after rockets were fired from Gaza toward Tel Aviv, resulting in a large-scale Israeli air attack on Gaza, after which Hamas leaders claimed the initial rocket launch was "accidental". 

With that prior incident, alongside increasingly violent clashes along the Israeli-Gaza border fence connected with ongoing "Great March of Return" protests, observers have noted the two sides appear to be hurtling toward another confrontation. 

As of late in the evening on Monday local Middle East time, Hamas media began reporting unconfirmed statements that Egypt has successfully negotiated a cease-fire between Israel and the Gaza factions, though it's unclear if or when the IDF will end its military operations.