Israel strikes back at Gaza Strip following missile attacks

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Aircraft bomb Hamas facilities in Gaza hours after two rockets were launched towards Tel Aviv

Israel launches strikes on Gaza after two rockets triggered Tel Aviv missile defence sirens (Reuters)

By MEE staff

Israeli military aircraft bombed Hamas facilities in the Gaza Strip just hours after two rockets were launched from the Palestinian enclave towards Tel Aviv in the first such attack since a 2014 war.

There was no immediate word of casualties from the air strikes that hit six buildings used by Hamas’s security forces and which had been evacuated as a precaution, Reuters reported.

Witnesses told the news agency that powerful explosions from the air strikes rocked buildings in Gaza and lit up the skies over targeted sites.

The Israeli military said it was targeting “terror sites” in Gaza, and that rocket sirens had been sounded in Israeli communities near the Gaza border.

Earlier on Thursday evening , the two rockets were fired from the Gaza Strip towards central Israel, the Israeli army said.

The army said neither of the rockets were intercepted by the country’s missile defense system (Iron Dome). Still “no damage or injuries were reported,” it added in a statement to reporters.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the rockets.

Israeli journalist Barak Ravid, citing an unidentified Israeli official, said the Palestinian faction Hamas, which governs the Gaza Strip, did not fire the rockets.

Palestinian Islamic Jihad, another Gaza faction, also denied being involved in the incident, Reuters reported.

Israel says Hamas responsible

Despite not knowing who fired the rockets, Israel blamed Hamas.

“We are still checking which group did the firing. We don’t know who carried it out,” Israel’s chief military spokesman, Brigadier-General Ronen Manelis, told Israel Radio, as quoted by Reuters.

‘The Hamas organisation is the main organisation in the [Gaza] Strip. It is responsible’

– Ronen Manelis, Israeli army spokesman

“The Hamas organisation is the main organisation in the strip. It is responsible for what happens within the strip and what emanates from it,” he said.

That was echoed by US President Donald Trump’s special representative for Middle East negotiations, who only minutes after the first reports were issued on Thursday said Hamas was responsible.

“Hamas violently suppresses its own people demonstrating against Hamas’ rule & failures today and NOW fires rockets at cities in Israel. OUTRAGEOUS!” Jason Greenblatt wrote on Twitter.

“We strongly support Israel in defense of its citizens. Always!”

The attacks occurred two weeks before the anniversary of the Gaza border protests, which began last 30 March, in which thousands have demonstrated weekly against Israel’s occupation.

The protests in Gaza have resulted in hundreds of Palestinian deaths and thousands more wounded. Since the protests began, one Israeli soldier was shot dead by a Palestinian sniper along the frontier and another was killed during an undercover raid into Gaza.

Elections next month

The last time rocket sirens were activated in Tel Aviv was two years ago during a false alarm, Israeli daily Haaretz reported.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and military leaders are holding security consultations in response to the rockets, Israeli media also reported.

The incident comes only weeks before Israeli parliamentary elections, set for 9 April.

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Netanyahu hopes to hold onto power in the upcoming poll, but his ruling Likud Party faces a serious challenge from Benny Gantz, a former chief of staff of the Israeli army.

Political observers raised concerns that the rockets fired from Gaza may be used as a pretext for Israel to launch a military assault on the besieged Palestinian territory.

Taking aggressive military action against Palestinians has long been a way for Israeli politicians to shore up support at home, or distract the Israeli public from other pressing domestic issues.

Earlier this week, Israeli Education Minister Naftali Bennett, one of Netanyahu’s allies, said Gantz was Hamas’s preferred candidate to win the elections.

“Gantz is Hamas’ wet dream,” Bennett tweeted on Wednesday morning, as reported by far-right news outlet Israel National News. “If Hamas leaders had the right to vote, they would vote for Benny Gantz, the ‘hesitating general’.”

 

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