Israel strikes Gaza in response to rocket fire

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JERUSALEM: The Israeli military carried out reprisal strikes against Hamas in Gaza early on Friday, hours after rockets were fired from the Palestinian enclave, sources said.

Around 30 strikes targeted positions held by the military wing of Hamas, which governs Gaza, and their ally Islamic Jihad, causing significant damage, a Gazan security source told AFP.

No injuries or deaths have been reported, the source added.

“We have just started striking terror sites in Gaza,” the Israel Defense Forces tweeted Friday morning.

Almost daily exchanges between the Jewish state and the Palestinian territory have threatened a wider escalation in hostilities over the past few weeks, as elections in Tel Aviv loom.

Friday’s strikes come hours after the Israeli army said two rockets were fired from Gaza toward the greater Tel Aviv district on Thursday evening.

On Thursday night, the Israeli foreign ministry posted a video appearing to show missiles climbing into the sky above high-rise buildings as sirens wail in the background.

“Two rockets were launched from the Gaza Strip towards Israeli territory,” an army statement said.

“The alert and warning systems operated as required. No interceptions were made by aerial defence systems. No damage or injuries were reported.”

Tel Aviv mayor Ron Huldai told local television one of the Gaza rockets “apparently fell into the sea, the other hit somewhere but not in Tel Aviv.”

Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who is also defence minister, later convened an emergency security meeting.

Both Hamas and Islamic Jihad have denied responsibility.

A statement from Hamas’s military wing said the group was “not responsible for the rockets fired tonight towards the enemy,” adding that it occurred during a visit by an Egyptian security delegation to Gaza.

Egypt is a key negotiator between the two sides.

Israel holds Hamas responsible for any rocket fire from Gaza, even if carried out by smaller groups outside direct Hamas control.

Netanyahu warned Gaza’s Hamas rulers on Sunday that Israel would not hesitate to launch a “large-scale operation” in Gaza if provoked.

He said that while “rogue factions” were behind recent Gaza “provocations”, it “did not exempt Hamas” of responsibility.

“I’ve heard people in Gaza saying that since we’re in an election campaign, a large-scale operation is out of the question,” he said.

“I’d suggest to Hamas – don’t count on it. We’ll do whatever is necessary to return the peace and quiet to the Gaza border communities, and the entire south.”

In October 2018 a rocket fired by Palestinians in Gaza fell into the sea off Tel Aviv and another hit the southern city of Beersheba.

In response to the October launch, Israel struck 20 targets in Gaza, killing one Palestinian, according to the Hamas-run health ministry.

It also closed both its border crossings with Gaza in reprisal, further isolating the blockaded enclave where deteriorating living conditions have stoked violent protests along the border.

Prior to that, the last attacks on the Tel Aviv area came during the July 2014 war between Israel and Gaza militants.

It left 2,251 dead on the Palestinian side, mostly civilians, and 74 on the Israeli side, mostly soldiers.

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