Blaming the Thursday evening rocket attack entirely on Hamas, even after assessing that the launching of two Fajr-5 rockets at Israel’s center was a mistake, Israeli aircraft attacked over 100 targets in Gaza overnight, with no casualties reported by the Hamas government.
By the AP
The IDF asses that the launching of two missiles at Israel’s center Thursday evening was a mistake.
The two missiles were launched from a Hamas installation at 21:07, while the Egyptian negotiating team was in the Gaza Strip discussing Hamas’ arrangement with Israel and Egypt.
One missile fell in an uninhabited area, while the other appears to have exploded mid air.
This was followed by an IAF attack on over 100 Hamas targets in the Gaza Strip overnight Friday.
Targets included an office complex in Gaza City, an underground complex that served as Hamas’ main rocket-manufacturing site, and a center used for a Hamas drone program.
The rocket attack Thursday night caught the IDF off guard and marked the first time that Tel Aviv, some 80 kilometers (50 miles) north of Gaza, has been targeted since a 2014 war. Though the attack caused no damage or injuries, it was a significant escalation and set the stage for a tough Israei reprisal.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called an emergency meeting with his military chief and other top security officials. Shortly after, Israeli warplanes attacked targets in southern and central Gaza.
The blasts were so powerful that smoke could be seen in Gaza City, 25 kilometers (15 miles) away from some of the strikes. The IAF warplanes could be heard roaring through the skies above Gaza City.
The IDF said it was targeting terror sites in Gaza, but gave no further details. Palestinian media said naval bases belonging to the ruling Hamas group had been struck. There were no immediate reports of casualties.
Minutes later, the IDF reported air raid sirens in southern Israel. It said it had identified a launch attempt out of Gaza, but the rocket misfired and landed inside Palestinian territory.
Israel and Hamas have fought three wars since the Islamic militant group seized power in Gaza in 2007. 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. National elections are 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 militants.
Cabinet Minister Naftali Bennett, a hardline 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 Israel-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 small protest over the harsh living conditions.
Brig. Gen. Ronen Manelis, chief IDF spokesman, said the army had been caught off guard by Thursday night’s rocket barrage. He said officials were still trying to determine who had fired the rocket.
כ-100 מטרות חמאס נתקפו הלילה ברצועת עזה בתגובה לירי לשטח ישראל אמש pic.twitter.com/UmawfkHIWH
— רונן מנליס – Ronen Manelis (@IDFSpokesperson) March 15, 2019
Israel holds Hamas responsible for all fire coming out of the territory. Hamas possesses a large arsenal of rockets and missiles capable of striking deep inside Israel.
But with Gaza’s economy in tatters, the group has been seeking to preserve calm.
Hamas denied responsibility for the attack on Tel Aviv, saying the rockets were launched when the group’s military wing was meeting with Egyptian mediators to try to strengthen a cease-fire with Israel.
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 the IDF concluded that Hamas did fire two rockets toward Tel Aviv. In a statement early Friday, the army said “we can confirm” that Hamas carried out the rocket attack.
Islamic Jihad, an Iranian-backed militant group that also has 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.
We hit 100 Hamas military targets in Gaza in response to the rockets they fired at Israeli civilians. Among them:
• Underground rocket manufacturing site
• HQ responsible for orchestrating Hamas terrorism in Judea & Samaria
• Hamas center of unmanned aerial aircraft#StopHamas pic.twitter.com/Iy3DwpNpTU
— Israel Defense Forces (@IDF) March 15, 2019
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.”
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