Israeli warplanes on Friday struck some 100 Hamas targets in the Gaza Strip after terrorists in Gaza launched rockets on Tel Aviv and Israeli communities in the south.
By Associated Press and World Israel News Staff
After striking over 100 Hamas targets in the Gaza Strip on Friday, the Israeli army announced its targets had included a Gaza City building used to plan and command Hamas terror activities, an underground complex that served as Hamas’ main rocket-manufacturing site, and a center used for Hamas drone development.
There were no reports of casualties in Gaza.
The Israeli strikes were part of a retaliatory operation after terrorists in Gaza launched a late-night rocket attack on Tel Aviv, Israel’s densely populated commercial and cultural capital, marking a dramatic escalation in hostilities.
In total, Palestinian terrorists fired two rockets at Tel Aviv and nine rockets at Israeli communities along the Gaza border, with Israel’s Iron Dome intercepting seven of these rockets and the others falling in areas away from civilians. No Israelis were injured in the attacks.
It was the first time Tel Aviv had been targeted since a 2014 war between Israel and the Hamas terror group.
Hamas denied responsibility for the initial rocket attack, saying it went against Palestinian interests. But after a preliminary investigation, Israel said it had concluded that the militant group was behind the attack.
Following the Israeli airstrike, several additional rounds of rocket fire were launched into Israel.
The fighting broke out as Egyptian mediators were in Gaza trying to convince the terror group to agree to an expanded cease-fire deal.
Israel and Hamas are bitter enemies and have fought three wars since the Islamic terror organization seized power n a bloody 2007 coup in Gaza from Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’ Fatah party. Smaller flare-ups have occurred sporadically since Israel and Hamas fought their last war, in 2014.
The sudden outburst of fighting comes at a sensitive time for both sides. Israel is holding national elections in less than a month. Netanyahu is locked in a tight fight for re-election and could face heavy criticism from his opponents if he is seen as ineffective against the terror threat.
Cabinet Minister Naftali Bennett, a rival of Netanyahu’s, called on the prime minister to convene a gathering of his Security Cabinet and demand the army “present a plan to defeat Hamas.”
Likewise, Hamas has come under rare public criticism in Gaza for the harsh conditions in the territory. An Israeli-Egyptian blockade, combined with sanctions by the rival Palestinian Authority and mismanagement by the Hamas government, have fueled an economic crisis in the territory.
Residents have little desire for another war with Israel.
Earlier Thursday, Hamas police violently broke up a protest over the harsh living conditions.
Israel holds Hamas responsible for all fire coming out of the territory. Financed by Iran, Hamas possesses a large arsenal of rockets and missiles capable of striking deep inside Israel.
Hamas denied responsibility for the attack on Tel Aviv, saying the rockets were launched when the group’s military wing was meeting with the Egyptian mediators.
In an unusual step that indicated Hamas was attempting to prevent further escalation, the Hamas Interior Ministry said the rocket fire went “against the national consensus” and promised to take action against the perpetrators.
But Israel’s military concluded that Hamas was responsible. In a statement early Friday, the army said “we can confirm” that Hamas carried out the rocket attack.
Islamic Jihad, another Iranian-backed terror group in Gaza with a large rocket arsenal, also denied firing the rockets. Smaller factions inspired by the Islamic State group also sometimes fire rockets, though it is unclear whether they possess projectiles capable of reaching Tel Aviv.
Earlier this week, Israel struck Hamas targets in Gaza in response to rocket fire on southern Israel, near the border.
Late Thursday, local media said that Egyptian mediators left the territory.
At the time, Netanyahu issued a warning to Hamas, rejecting suggestions that Israel would be reluctant to take tough action in Gaza ahead of national elections next month.
“I suggest to Hamas, don’t count on it,” he told his Cabinet. “We will do anything necessary to restore security and quiet to the area adjacent to the Gaza Strip and to the south in general.”