Israeli jets carried out several rounds of fresh airstrikes in the Gaza Strip Sunday night, hours after rocket fire at southern Israel drew an Israeli reprisal and as Hamas paraded missiles through the streets and threatened renewed violence.
Palestinian media reported one teen was lightly hurt and three youths were in shock from the strikes.
The Israel Defense Forces said jets attacked “several” Hamas positions in the Strip.
The strikes come in response to the launch of a rocket from Gaza that hit inside the city of Sderot earlier in the day.
“The attack on the terror infrastructures is a response to the high trajectory [indirect] fire out at the city of Sderot earlier today that is a threat to the security of Israeli citizens and harms Israeli sovereignty,” the IDF said in a statement just before midnight Sunday.
The army did not indicate how many raids it had carried out.
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The relatively stiff 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 two smaller Palestinian terror groups, but Israel says it holds Hamas responsible for any attacks emanating from Gaza and routinely responds to such launches with strikes against the organization.
”The IDF remains committed to the stability of the region and operated in order to bring quiet to the people of southern Israel,” IDF spokesman Lt. Col. Peter Lerner said in a statement. “When terrorists in Hamas’ Gaza Strip, driven by a radical agenda based on hatred, attack people in the middle of the summer vacation, their intentions are clear – to inflict pain, cause fear and to terrorize.”
The rocket launch on Sderot 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.
A Hamas official told Israel Radio the group was not interested in a renewal of violence. But earlier Sunday night, 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.
In an initial response to the rocket earlier in the day, the IDF attacked two sites of Hamas “terrorist infrastructure” in Beit Hanoun, in the northern Gaza Strip.
An IAF plane was used to strike the first target, while a tank fired a shell at the second, the army said.
That initial attack reportedly hurt a 20-year-old Palestinian man and another resident of the Strip. Palestinian health and security sources said two people were lightly wounded by the Israeli fire on Sunday afternoon, AFP reported.
“One of them is a 20-year-old (young man) who was hit by shrapnel in the face,” said Ashraf al-Qudra, spokesman for the Palestinian health ministry in Hamas-controlled Gaza.
It was unclear if the two said hurt earlier Sunday were included in the four reported hurt Sunday night.
Sunday marked the first time in weeks that Israeli air raid sirens sounded in towns and villages near Gaza.
Sappers were called to the scene in order to handle the projectile, police said.
A spokesperson for local law enforcement called for the public to stay away from the area in order to allow “police bomb disposal experts to maintain full safety at the scene.”
Ahfad al-Sahaba-Aknaf Bayt al-Maqdis, a Salafist group with ties to the Islamic State, took responsibility for the rocket attack.
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.
The last rocket to hit Israel from Gaza hit an empty preschool in Sderot on July 1.