Netanyahu: Israel dealt Gaza terror groups ‘harshest blow in years’

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Wednesday Israel’s military had delivered the “harshest blow” in years to Gaza terrorist groups, which he said are inspired by Iran, in his first comments on the most serious flare-up since the 2014 war.

“Since yesterday the IDF has strongly retaliated against the firing from the Gaza Strip and has hit dozens of terrorist targets in the harshest blow we have dealt them in years,” Netanyahu said.

Speaking at the memorial ceremony for the victims of the Altalena ship, sunk during Israel’s War of Independence amid infighting among Jewish military groups, the prime minister blamed Hamas and the Islamic Jihad for the firing of some 200 rockets and mortar shells since early Tuesday and warned the Palestinian terror groups would “pay dearly” if the rocket fire resumes.

“The Hamas regime, Islamic Jihad and the other terrorist organizations, inspired by Iran, are responsible for the escalation,” the prime minister said. “I will not detail our plans because I do not want the enemy to know what to expect. But one thing is clear: When they test us, they pay immediately. And if they continue testing us, they will pay dearly.”

Netanyahu spoke as the rocket fire subsided, with the Hamas terrorist group saying an Egyptian-brokered ceasefire with Israel had been reached. Israel denied there was an agreement, but a senior Israeli defense official, speaking on condition of anonymity, indicated to reporters that an understanding had been reached under which Israel would not conduct additional strikes in Gaza as long as no more rockets or mortar shells were fired.

The Israeli Air Force bombed dozens of Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad facilities across the Gaza Strip in two rounds of air raids, on Tuesday afternoon and predawn Wednesday, amid the largest exchange between Israel and Gazan terrorist groups since Operation Protective Edge in 2014. The escalation began with a barrage of mortar shells fired into southern Israel by Islamic Jihad on Tuesday morning, one of which landed outside a kindergarten shortly before the children arrived.

Read More: Times of Israel