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From Jerry Silverman, President & CEO of The Jewish Federations of North America

Dear Federation Family,

Our Israel office has prepared this update on the significant escalation that has occurred in the last few hours along the border with Gaza.

Over 200 rockets have been fired at Israel since just before 5pm Israel time today (10am ET), 60 of which were successfully intercepted by the Iron Dome Missile Defense System. Sirens have sounded multiple times in the communities surrounding the Gaza Strip, including Ashkelon, Sderot and Netivot. Footage of incoming rockets being intercepted can be seen here and here. One Israeli teen was seriously injured when a bus he was standing near was hit by what appears to be an anti-tank weapon in Sha’ar HaNegev, and another person was moderately wounded when a rocket struck a factory in Sderot. At least 19 light injuries have also been reported.

Residents of the Gaza area have been ordered to stay close to shelters, and public gatherings have been banned in the region. Schools and other educational institutions will be closed tomorrow; and the IDF is currently considering a similar order for Be’er Sheva. Prime Minister Netanyahu and Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman are currently meeting with the IDF’s top command.

In response to the rockets, the Israel Air Force has so far attacked at least 70 Hamas military sites in the Gaza Strip, as well as three terror tunnels, reportedly killing 3 Palestinians. The IDF is also strengthening the numbers of tank and infantry units in the area.

The attacks in recent hours follow days of calm, with many reports indicating that a Hamas – Israel ceasefire deal was close. However, matters escalated overnight during an apparent intelligence operation. Around 9:30 pm last night there were a number of reports of fighting and explosions over the border in Gaza. While the IDF has not said what exactly occurred, the picture emerging is that a number of Israeli special forces fighters were conducting an intelligence gathering mission inside Gaza (a fairly common occurrence) when something went wrong. A firefight broke out, during which an unnamed Israeli Lieutenant Colonel was killed, and a second Israeli fighter injured. The fallen soldier, known only as Lieut Col. M (due to the sensitive nature of his position) is being hailed as a hero in Israel. During his funeral early today, which was attended by President Reuven Rivlin, it was stated that “It is possible that the story of his heroic mission may never be told.” At least seven Hamas operatives were also killed during the fight. According to Hamas, among the dead was the commander of its Khan Younis Area Battalion. It seems that Israeli air strikes were then called in to provide cover as the other Israeli fighters retreated back across the border.

This incident was followed by a series of at least 17 rockets fired at Israel from Gaza. During the heat of the fighting, flight routes into and out of Ben Gurion Airport were temporarily altered. Prime Minister Netanyahu was in Paris when last night’s fighting took place but cut short his trip and returned to Israel.

As of this writing, rockets continue to be fired into Israel. Despite the continued fighting, both Hamas and Israeli leadership have said that they do not want the situation to escalate. Israeli emergency services are responding to multiple rocket landing sites, including numerous fires.

Jewish Federation partners’, including The Jewish Agency for Israel, The American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC) and the Israel Trauma Coalition (ITC) have operatives on the ground and are currently assessing needs. The Jewish Agency’s Fund for the Victims of Terror will meet tomorrow morning with those who have been injured to offer immediate assistance. They will also offer aid to the family whose house was struck by a rocket and heavily damaged a short time ago. The Agency’s absorption centers are operating on an emergency footing. Meanwhile JDC is opening its Virtual CIL (Center for Independent Living) which serves people with various types of disabilities. The website offers advice, resources, and hosts virtual chats with professional staff. The site will provide 24-7 support for the duration of the emergency. At the same time, ITC has activated its emergency protocols. Their resilience centers have opened hot lines, that have so far received over a hundred calls.

JFNA’s Israel office is in close contact with our partners and Federation staff with partnership regions that are impacted by the situation, as well as with government and emergency services operating in the area; and will continue to monitor the situation closely, and update as needed.