Israel at War: 'Pillar of Defense' Op Escalates

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KIRYAT MALACHI, Israel -- The Israeli Air Force ratcheted up its air strikes at terrorist sites in the Gaza Strip Thursday as rockets rained down on southern Israel.

Operation Pillar of Defense is aimed at halting massive rocket and mortar attacks on southern Israeli cities, which escalated over the last days and weeks.

"The Israeli police have heightened security since the early hours of the morning," Israel Police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld told CBN News. "There's been more than 140 rockets that have been fired into Israel since the beginning of the IDF operation."

Israel upped the ante on Wednesday when it carried out a targeted strike against the head of Hamas' military wing. Ahmed Jabari was in charge of the rockets fired at Israel. The army released footage of the missile attack on his car.

CBN News traveled to the Gaza border early Thursday morning where the crew watched as multiple rockets were fired into Israel. From their vantage point a couple of miles away from the border, they could hear the explosions and see the smoke trails of rockets fired from Gaza.

Israel said its jets were targeting the terrorist infrastructure and rocket launching sites, while its anti-missile batteries were intercepting rockets.

Opposite Gaza, over Israel, the crew could see the plumes of smoke as the Iron Dome intercepted and destroyed incoming rockets. They could also hear "Tzeva Adom," the Color Red air raid siren, notifying residents to take cover in bomb shelters and safe rooms.

The Iron Dome batteries are about 80 percent effective in hitting incoming missiles. But on Thursday, at least one got through, striking a four-story residence in the town of Kiryat Malachi.

Three Israelis were killed when it slammed into the building. Others were wounded, two seriously and three moderately, including two children.

"I heard a whistle and a big boom," Tal Perry told CBN News. "We run here and we saw the building destroyed. First I shout to my mom if she's okay. And I'm still shaking - I'm very scared. Right now I'm really scared. I don't know if I'm safe."

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu spoke with President Obama overnight. The president backed Israel's right to defend itself while urging Israel to do everything in its power to prevent civilian casualties in Gaza.

Within hours of the opening volley, Egypt recalled its ambassador to Israel.

Israeli Transportation Minister Yisrael Katz was also there. CBN News Middle East Bureau Chief Chris Mitchell asked him how long he expected the operation to continue and if it depended on what Hamas does -- on how it reacts. 

"I expect them to get the message that we send them and if it will not be like that, we will continue," Katz replied.

It's not clear if Israel will mount a ground incursion into Gaza, but some reservists have been called up. And in the coming days, Israel expects the rocket fire to continue.

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CBN News
Chris Mitchell and Julie Stahl

Chris Mitchell and Julie Stahl

CBN News Jerusalem Bureau

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