The Israel Air Force conducted 50 airstrikes against Hamas targets in the Gaza Strip late Sunday night, following a rocket fired into Israel by Palestinian terrorists earlier that day, but was not seeking an escalation in hostilities, an Israeli official said on Monday.
“There were approximately 50 airstrikes within two hours. There is no intention to escalate the situation further, and that is basically where the situation falls at this time,” a senior military official told The Times of Israel.
Palestinian security sources in Gaza said several targets in the northern Strip were struck by Israeli fire, and that a reservoir in Beit Hanoun was damaged. Israel also hit a base belonging to Hamas’s military wing, the Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades, in nearby Beit Lahiya, witnesses said. Palestinian health and security sources said between two and five people were lightly wounded by Israel’s retaliatory fire.
This was the second Israeli bombardment of the day. Immediately following the rocket attack from the Gaza Strip on Sunday afternoon, Israeli aircraft and tanks also targeted Hamas installations in the northern Gaza Strip.
After the late-night airstrikes, the Islamist Hamas rulers of the Gaza Strip blamed Israel for escalating tensions in the Palestinian enclave.
“The escalation shows Israel’s desire to change the status quo in the Gaza Strip,” Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri said Sunday night.
“We hold Israel responsible for the escalation in the Gaza Strip and we stress that its aggression will not succeed in breaking the will of our people or dictate the terms of resistance,” Zuhri said. The Hamas spokesman was speaking hours after the terror group paraded missiles through the streets and threatened renewed violence against Israel.
On Monday, Tourism Minister Yariv Levin told Israel Radio that Israel was not interested in an escalation of violence with Hamas, but said the army would “respond appropriately if necessary.”
The response marks the most intense Israeli reprisal attack on Gaza since the sides fought a bloody war in 2014, and could signal a shift in policy by newly installed Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman.
The rocket fire was claimed by a small Islamic State-linked Salafist group, but Israel says it holds Hamas — the Strip’s de facto rulers — responsible for any attacks emanating from Gaza and routinely responds to such launches with strikes against the terror organization.
The rocket launch on Sderot on Sunday struck inside the border town, but caused no casualties or damage. It landed between two homes on Hanehalim Street, near Sapir College and the city’s train station. Locals said it was “a miracle” that nobody was injured.
The attack was the second serious rocket strike from Gaza since Liberman took office in May, following a strike that hit an empty preschool in July.
The IDF said it was the 14th rocket launched from Gaza into Israel in 2016.
On Sunday night, a Hamas official told Israel Radio the group was not interested in a renewal of violence. But earlier, Hamas held a large rally in the southern Gaza town of Rafah, parading rockets through the streets and threatening to renew fighting if Israel did not lift a decade-old blockade on the enclave.
Israel says the blockade, also imposed by Egypt, is necessary to keep Hamas and other terror groups from re-arming or rebuilding military infrastructures used in previous wars with Israel.
Launches from Gaza are infrequent and usually carried out by small fringe groups, at times without the approval of Gaza’s Hamas rulers and even at times as a means for pressuring the group by raising tensions between it and Israel.