120 U.S. Department of Defense officials were evacuated from Israel on Thursday amid ongoing rocket attacks launched by Hamas from the Gaza strip.
Pentagon spokesman John Kirby announced the evacuation in a Pentagon press briefing on Thursday, in which he said the U.S. personnel were in Israel planning for an event. The U.S. personnel were already scheduled to leave this week, but their departure was accelerated. The U.S. personnel were flown to Germany on a C-17.
(Kirby’s comments about the evacuation begin at approximately 19:50)
“We made this decision to remove these individuals in coordination with our Israeli counterparts of course,” Kirby said. “These people from throughout the Department were in Israel for a routine planning event as part of the normal exercise cycle in support of longstanding bilateral agreements with Israel.”
The evacuation comes on the same day the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) announced new rocket attacks sustained in both northern and southern Israel and in the Israeli city of Beersheba.
The rocket attacks against Israel entered their fourth day in a row on Thursday.
The IDF announced that in the first three days of fighting, Hamas and other militant groups had fired more than 1,500 rockets towards Israel.
Israeli forces launched their own strikes in response to the rocket attacks and have targeted dozens of Hamas sites and against the militant group’s leaders.
The IDF tweeted pictures of 14 leaders of Hamas and another militant group, Islamic Jihad, that it had targeted in recent strikes.
“These are the faces of some of the top Hamas and Islamic Jihad leaders and terrorists,” the IDF tweeted. “They were responsible for the rocket attacks against Israel in the last 72 hours. They will never plan another terror attack again.”
The IDF said its strikes have also targeted sites like high-rise apartment buildings that they say Hamas has used as intelligence and planning headquarters for the ongoing rocket attacks.
The IDF tweeted one infographic stating, “With the spread of misinformation, it’s time to set this straight. This is why we attack multi-story buildings in Gaza:”
The infographic claims Hamas has been using some multi-story high-rise towers as intelligence headquarters, military offices and weapons caches. The IDF said it also takes “every feasible measure” to warn civilians in those buildings to evacuate before they strike.
On Thursday, the BBC reported at least 83 people have been killed in Gaza and seven in Israel.
In remarks at the State Department on Wednesday, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken announced that Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Israel and Palestinian Affairs would travel to the region and meet with Israeli and Palestinian leaders in an effort to de-escalate the violence.
During his State Department remarks, Blinken was asked if he believes the Israeli response has been proportional, given the reported Palestinian casualties.
“There is, first, a very clear and absolute distinction between a terrorist organization, Hamas, that is indiscriminately raining down rockets — in fact targeting civilians — and Israel’s response defending itself, that is targeting the terrorists who are raining down rockets on Israel. But whenever we see civilian casualties, and particularly when we see children caught in the crossfire losing their lives, that has a powerful impact. I think Israel has an extra burden in trying to do everything it possibly can to avoid civilian casualties even as it is rightfully responding in defense of its people.”
Blinken added, “As I said, the Palestinian people have a right to safety and security and we have to, I think, all work in that direction. So the single most important thing right now is de-escalation.”