Israel bolsters troops at border with Gaza as Hamas hits Ashkelon with rocket barrage

CNNHamas fired hundreds of rockets towards the southern Israeli city of Ashkelon on Tuesday, in a defiant move as Israel strengthened its military buildup along the border with Gaza.

The militant group warned Israeli residents they had just hours to evacuate before it launched the 40-minute barrage, which was witnessed by CNN teams on the ground. Many of the rockets fired towards Ashkelon were intercepted by Israel’s Iron Dome, its missile defense system designed to shoot down incoming projectiles.

Israel continued to pound the coastal enclave with air strikes, hitting more than 200 targets in Gaza overnight. The bombardment has forced more than 187,500 Palestinians to flee their homes, the UN said. Hamas said it launched the strike on Ashkelon in “response to the displacement of civilians in Gaza.”

The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) said it had “more or less” secured the border with Gaza, breached on Saturday when Hamas sent fighters pouring into Israeli territory to launch its devastating attack. The IDF said it had recovered the bodies of about 1,500 Hamas fighters inside Israel since Saturday.


Up to 150 hostages are being held in Gaza, complicating the picture as Israel considers how to respond. Israel has pledged to cut off all supplies to the impoverished enclave in a “complete siege” ahead of an expected ground incursion.

Israel’s ambassador to the United Nations Gilad Erdan told CNN on Monday that the country’s priority is “to obliterate Hamas terrorist capabilities.”

The IDF said more than 900 were killed and thousands more injured in Israel after Hamas’ surprise assault. The Israeli Embassy in the US said the number of dead was more than 1,000.

Israel formally declared war on Hamas on Sunday and has since been battering the strip with air strikes that have killed at least 830 people, including dozens of children and women, according to the Palestinian Health Ministry. It said thousands more had been injured.

Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warned that Israeli forces would attack Hamas with a force “like never before” and that the destruction of the group’s strongholds in Gaza would be “just the beginning.”

“This enemy wanted war, and this is what they will get,” Netanyahu said Monday, adding “difficult days are still ahead of us.”

Israeli jets continued to bombard Gaza overnight into Tuesday, striking over 200 targets in the Rimal and Khan Yunis neighborhoods, according to the IDF. CNN teams near the border heard large explosions and heavy rumbles within Gaza and saw fighter jets above.


It is anticipated that Israel will launch a major offensive into Gaza, although the full scale of the Israeli response remains unclear.

Israel has saturated its southern border with troops, and the entire length of fence along the border with Gaza is covered with tanks and air coverage, the IDF told CNN. Israeli forces have finished evacuating civilians close to the border, and more than 300,000 Israeli reservists have been called up, it said.

“What happens on the way and how we implement that task will be seen. But at this stage, we continue to strike from the air. And there are plans to, of course, expand that,” IDF spokesperson Lt Col. Jonathan Conricus said. “The troops, the reserves, and the regular units that are amassing along the southern border are readying for their tasks.”

Attempts have continued by Hamas to breach the border in order to launch suicide missions to kill civilians and soldiers, Conricus added.

The IDF has also amplified its presence along its northern border with Lebanon, adding tens of thousands of additional troops “in anticipation of a Hezbollah attack,” Conricus said.

Hezbollah told CNN that three of its members died during an Israeli air raid in southern Lebanon on Monday.

The IDF had earlier said it killed armed individuals who “infiltrated” Israel from Lebanon. Hezbollah claimed responsibility for targeting three Israeli sites in Shebaa Farms, which Lebanon considers Israeli-occupied.

On Tuesday, the IDF reported a suspected aerial infiltration in the northern areas of the Golan Heights and Upper Galilee, near Syria and Lebanon. “IDF soldiers are directing IDF aircraft and conducting searches in the area,” read a post on the IDF Telegram channel.

Later Tuesday, Lebanese media outlet Al Manar reported that rockets were fired from southern Lebanon towards Israel. Al Manar is Hezbollah-owned, but Hezbollah did not claim that it had fired the rockets.

The IDF said that it responded to the attack with artillery fire after “launches” were “identified from Lebanese territory toward Israeli territory.”

Israel accused of deliberately targeting civilians

The Rafah crossing – the only border crossing between Gaza and Egypt – was struck Tuesday, according to Eyad al-Bozom, a spokesperson for the Palestinian Interior Ministry. Al-Bozom said Israeli warplanes struck the gateway and teams working at the crossing had been asked to evacuate “immediately” due to the threat of strikes.

The crossing was working normally on Tuesday, with 75 people cleared for passage on Wednesday, Palestinian officials said.

The United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) said late Monday it has been forced to close all 14 of its food distribution centers in Gaza and “as a result half a million people have stopped receiving vital food aid.”

More than half of its population lives in poverty and is food insecure, with nearly 80% of its population relying on humanitarian assistance.


Gaza is one of the most densely populated places on Earth, where some 2 million people live in an area of 140 square miles.

It has been almost completely cut off from the rest of the world for nearly 17 years, when Hamas seized control, prompting Israel and Egypt to impose a strict siege on the territory, which is ongoing. Israel also maintains an air and naval blockade on Gaza.

Israeli strikes on Monday targeted the Shati and Jabalia refugee camps in Gaza, the Palestinian Health Ministry said, describing the assault as a “massacre against the entire neighborhood.”

Further airstrikes on a residential building killed two local journalists and injured another in the western part of the Gaza Strip, according to a statement by the Hamas-controlled Government Media Office.

Saed Al-Taweel and Mohammed Sabah were covering the evacuation of a threatened building when the Israeli strike hit, said a statement from Salama Marouf, the head of the media office. They were clearly identifiable as press members and were wearing safety gear and distinctive journalist markings, Marouf said.

Video seen by CNN shows Sabah’s body on a stretcher, clad in a blue bulletproof vest labeled “Press” and surrounded by other journalists. The IDF told CNN it was looking into the report.

Meanwhile, the health ministry accused Israeli forces of “persistent and deliberate targeting of civilian neighborhoods, health facilities, and notably, medical and rescue crews, as well as ambulance vehicles.”

The ministry said five medical staff had been killed in targeted attacks inside Gaza.

Asked whether Israeli forces were distinguishing between civilian, governmental and military targets, IDF spokesperson Lt. Col. Richard Hecht said the distinction was not so simple.

“In buildings where people are living there could be a weapons store… there could be a Hamas kingpin living there,” he said Tuesday.

Most of those arriving at hospitals in Gaza have sustained second- and third-degree burns and amputations, a spokesperson for the Palestinian Health Ministry, Ashraf al-Qidra, told Palestinian news outlet Shihab Agency on Monday. Many have also sustained shrapnel injuries, al-Qidra said.

Those seeking hospital care are mainly women and children, al-Qidra said, adding that this is a “result of Israelis directly targeting residential houses and buildings.”

Access to medical care has been complicated by Israel cutting power to the territory, and the ministry said that all services at the only functioning hospital in Gaza’s Beit Hanoun neighborhood were suspended due to continuous Israeli airstrikes. Nine ambulances have been targeted since Saturday, the ministry added.

The UNRWA said its emergency shelters in Gaza are at 90% capacity with more than 137,000 people taking cover from Israeli strikes. It also said that one UN school housing displaced families was “directly hit,” without giving further details. It’s unknown how many people were in the shelter at the time of the strike.