, JERUSALEM, July 9- The Israeli air force bombed 160 targets in the Gaza Strip overnight as it pressed a widescale campaign to stop volleys of Palestinian rocket fire, an army official said Wednesday.
“Overnight, the IDF (army) hit about 160 targets in the Gaza Strip. Over the past two days we attacked a total of about 430 targets,” General Moti Almoz told military radio as Operation Protective Edge entered its second day.
The targets included about 120 concealed rocket launchers, 10 Hamas command and control centres, among them two homes, and many tunnels, he said.
“Hamas’s weapons stockpile has suffered significant damage over the past two days,” Almoz told the radio.
He said the Islamist movement has been “forced into a corner” and was trying to launch attacks on multiple fronts.
“Last night, Hamas started to unveil its surprises,” he said referring to an attempted attack by sea and the barrage of long range rockets fired at cities as far away as Jerusalem, Tel Aviv and the northern coastal city of Hadera, which is more than 100 kilometres (60 miles) from Gaza.
“Hamas was trying to surprise and find the weak points and penetrate Israel by sea or through tunnels; these incidents were thwarted very successfully by the IDF,” he said.
The rocket fire continued early Wednesday, with army radio reporting that at least five projectiles from Gaza were shot down over Tel Aviv and its surrounds by Israel’s Iron Dome anti-missile system.
Hamas’s armed wing the Ezzedine Al Qassam Brigades claimed the rocket fire, saying it had launched four M75 rockets at Israel’s commercial capital.
Almoz said meanwhile that an incident at Kerem Shalom, location of the main goods crossing between Israel and southern Gaza, was still “ongoing”.
“The forces still on very high alert to ensure that attacks like this are foiled,” he said, without giving further details.
Interior Minister Gidon Saar, a member of security cabinet, said the military had been given orders to “significantly” expand the campaign.
“We didn’t limit the campaign in terms of time, in fact we ordered the IDF to significantly broaden the attacks on Hamas and to do everything to return the quiet and ensure a significant blow to Hamas and the terror organisations in Gaza,” he told the radio.
Israel, he said, was going into the widening operation with its “eyes very much open”.
“We’re ready for every possibility, including a ground operation if necessary, although it’s not going to be the first step. But there is a readiness for that and that’s why we ordered the call-up of 40,000 reserve soldiers,” he said
Israel would not stop until it had dealt a decisive blow to the militant groups operating out of Gaza, he said.
“Hamas is firing, and it must first of all stop, but we won’t be satisfied with just that without a very, very significant and broad blow to Hamas and the entire terror infrastructure in Gaza.”