Smoke rises following Israeli airstrikes in Gaza City, Thursday, May 13, 2021.

Smoke rises following Israeli airstrikes in Gaza City, Thursday, May 13, 2021. (Adel Hana/AP)

WASHINGTON — About 120 Defense Department personnel were evacuated from Israel on Thursday as violence continues between the Israeli military and Hamas, chief Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said.

The personnel were in Israel for a routine planning conference for a future exercise between U.S. and Israeli troops, Kirby told reporters at the Pentagon.

“This particular planning conference was already scheduled to wrap up this week, but we did accelerate the departure of these individuals in full coordination with our Israeli counterparts,” he said.

The personnel, who came from commands “throughout the department,” are now in Germany after they were taken to Ramstein Air Base aboard a C-17 Globemaster III, Kirby said.

The withdrawal came as Israeli forces stepped up their offensive in Gaza, killing about 10 senior Hamas military officials and destroying Hamas housing facilities in airstrikes Wednesday as Gaza militants bombarded Israel with rocket fire, The Associated Press reported Thursday.

Hamas is the armed wing of the Palestinian Islamic political party.

About 69 Palestinians and seven Israelis have died in the recent violence, which began Monday after Hamas launched rockets at Israel. Since then, Palestinian militants have fired about 1,500 rockets, and Israel has attacked more than 350 targets in Gaza, according to the AP.

The U.S., meanwhile, maintains Israel has “a right to defend themselves and their citizens,” Kirby said.

“The scale and the scope of the attacks on Israel are extensive,” he said. “We have an ironclad commitment to our bilateral relationship with Israel and to helping them in their self-defense.” Twitter: @CaitlinDoornbos

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Caitlin Doornbos covers the Pentagon for Stars and Stripes after covering the Navy’s 7th Fleet as Stripes’ Indo-Pacific correspondent at Yokosuka Naval Base, Japan. Previously, she worked as a crime reporter in Lawrence, Kan., and Orlando, Fla., where she was part of the Orlando Sentinel team that placed as finalist for the 2017 Pulitzer Prize for breaking news. Caitlin has a Bachelor of Science in journalism from the University of Kansas and master’s degree in defense and strategic studies from the University of Texas at El Paso.

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