Operation Iron Sword

IDF spokesman: Rules of the game in Gaza have changed

Fighting continued along the Gaza border on Monday, as IDF fighter jets strike Hamas targets

Ilia Yefimovich/picture alliance via Getty Images

Israeli soldiers on a tank are seen near the Israel-Gaza border.

Israeli forces regained full control of the area around the Gaza Strip Monday morning, two days after Hamas’ invasion of Israel began, following sustained combat between Israeli forces and Palestinian terrorists who infiltrated the border from the enclave, IDF Spokesman Rear Admiral Daniel Hagari said. 

“We are in control of all the communities around Gaza,” Hagari said in a press conference. 

“There may still be terrorists in the area,” he added. “We have almost completed evacuating Gaza border residents, however, Sderot will not be evacuated yet.”

Earlier Monday, the army’s foreign press spokesman, Lt. Col. Richard Hecht, told reporters, “We are in a different game right now, the scope is completely different. There has been a change of paradigm right now… this is war, and the scale is completely different.”

Overnight, Israeli fighter jets and helicopters struck some 500 Hamas and Islamic Jihad terrorist targets in the Gaza Strip, including command centers and numerous multistory buildings where Hamas leaders reside, the army said in a statement. Among the residences hit was one belonging to Ruhi Mashtaa, secretary of Hamas and part of the organization’s key decision-making group.

Hecht said that the army would continue to strike targets in the Gaza Strip and attempt to downgrade the capabilities of the terrorist organizations operating there, including cells firing rockets into Israel. He emphasized that the focus is still on “defending our communities and closing the breach points,” where hundreds of Hamas terrorists entered Israel on Saturday.

“I can’t deny that there are not people still coming in and can’t deny the fact there are tunnels [under the border fence],” Hecht said, explaining that the slow progress in securing the area was due to the fact that the army was operating in civilian areas.  

“The reason it is so hard is because there are civilians in the midst of all of this, so we need special forces and we are doing it in a surgical way,” he said. “There was also an issue with people still coming in and other events throughout the day.”

According to Israeli media reports, more than 700 people have been killed in the multipronged terrorist attack, with some 2,300 injured, 300 of them critically. At a music festival near Kibbutz Re’em, emergency medical organization Zaka said that more than 260 people were killed. Video footage showed people being dragged off by the terrorists and taken into Gaza.

The army was unable to give an exact number of how many hostages are being held in Gaza. Hecht said “dozens” of hostages are being kept in the enclave, while Israeli media reports estimated anywhere between 70 and 100 people.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who did not address the public on Sunday, appointed retired Brig.-Gen. Gal Hirsch as coordinator for the captives and the missing. However, families of the missing – many of whom told Israeli media outlets that they feel abandoned by the government – established their own group to coordinate efforts and provide support.

Hecht said four army divisions had been deployed to the south and hundreds of thousands of reservists were called up for duty, as Israel prepares to enter Gaza for what many pundits believe will be a lengthy war to regain control of the territory.

In Israeli media, there were reports that the army was running low on essential gear and other items needed to kit out the reservists. A public appeal was made for basic necessities for the thousands of soldiers being called up.

Hecht said that troops had been beefed up in northern Israel as well over fears that an additional front might open up with Hezbollah, the Islamist terror organization that controls southern Lebanon. On Sunday, there were several incidents of gunfire, with Israel forces responding.

Hagari, the IDF spokesperson, said in a statement on Sunday that Israel was coordinating its efforts, particularly those in the north, with U.S. Central Command. He said that Israel’s general chief of staff of the Army, Herzi Halevy, was in constant contact with CENTCOM Gen. Michael Kurilla.

On Sunday, the United States began moving USS Gerald R. Ford Carrier Strike Group to the Eastern Mediterranean, CENTCOM said in a statement.

“This includes the U.S. Navy aircraft carrier USS Gerald R. Ford (CVN-78), the Ticonderoga-class guided-missile cruiser USS Normandy (CG 60), as well as the Arleigh-Burke-class guided missile destroyers USS Thomas Hudner (DDG 116), USS Ramage (DDG 61), USS Carney (DDG 64), and USS Roosevelt (DDG 80),” the statement said. “We have also taken steps to augment U.S. Air Force F-15, F-16, and A-10 fighter aircraft squadrons in the region. The U.S. maintains ready forces globally to further reinforce this posture if required.”

Kurilla said in the statement that CENTCOM “stands firmly with Israeli and other regional partners to address the risks of any party seeking to expand the conflict.”

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