Israel warns Hamas of ‘heavy price’ for rocket fire

Air force strikes Gaza in retaliation for attack; defense minister says Israel ready to act ‘with even greater force’

An IDF vehicle in Absan, near the border between Israel and east of the town of Khan Yunis in the southern Gaza Strip, March 30, 2015 (Abed Rahim Khatib/Flash90)
An IDF vehicle in Absan, near the border between Israel and east of the town of Khan Yunis in the southern Gaza Strip, March 30, 2015 (Abed Rahim Khatib/Flash90)

Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon delivered a stern warning to Hamas on Wednesday morning following a rocket attack on the south the night before. Hamas, he said, must rein in any attempts by factions in Gaza to attack Israel, or “pay a heavy price.”

Earlier, Israeli Air Force jets bombed four targets in the Gaza Strip in response to the rocket, which hit near near the town of Gan Yavne, outside Ashdod, causing neither casualties nor damage.

The army alleged that it was fired by Islamic Jihad activists due to an internal dispute in the organization.

“Israel has no intention of ignoring attacks on its citizens like the one carried out last night by Islamic Jihad forces,” Ya’alon said in a statement. “We will not abide any threat on the residents of the south. If it isn’t quiet in Israel, the Gaza Strip will pay a heavy price.”

Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon oversees a training exercise of the IDF  7th Armored Brigade, May 7, 2015 (Diana Hananshvili/Defense Ministry)
Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon oversees a training exercise of the IDF 7th Armored Brigade, May 7, 2015 (Diana Hananshvili/Defense Ministry)

“I would not advise anyone to test us,” he cautioned, directly threatening the Hamas government of Gaza. “We see Hamas as responsible for what happens in the Gaza Strip. It would be better for Hamas to rein in all attempts to fire at Israel and provocations. Otherwise we will have no choice but to respond with even greater force.”

There were no immediate reports of casualties from the Israeli bombardments across the Palestinian coastal enclave.

The IDF said in a statement that it targeted four “terror infrastructure” sites in the southern Gaza Strip in response to the rocket fire at southern Israel on Tuesday evening. The military said it confirmed direct hits.

Escalating rocket fire from Gaza at Israel’s southern communities in 2014 was among the triggers of a bloody, two-month war between Israel and the armed factions in the Strip.

During the conflict, Palestinians fired over 4,000 rockets at Israeli towns and cities, some of which reached Tel Aviv and as far north as Haifa’s suburbs.

“The reality that Hamas’s territory is used as a staging ground to attack Israel is unacceptable and intolerable and will bear consequences,” military spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Peter Lerner said in a statement overnight.

The planes targeted training camps belonging to the Islamic Jihad in Rafah, Khan Yunis and Gaza City, witnesses in the Strip said.

A video posted on Facebook purported to show footage of one of the Israeli airstrikes on the northern Gaza Strip.

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Posted by Pub-leak on Tuesday, May 26, 2015

A Hamas official said the group was working to calm the situation with rival Palestinian groups in the Gaza Strip, Israel Radio reported.

Although Hamas did not take credit for the rocket fire, and sources in the Gaza Strip said the rocket was likely fired by members of the Islamic Jihad, Israel has consistently maintained that Hamas is responsible for all attacks emanating from the Gaza Strip.

The rocket fired from the Gaza Strip hit southern Israel on Tuesday night, shortly after 9 p.m., as alarms blared across the region, the army said.

There were no immediate reports of injuries or damage from the rocket.

The projectile — a Grad missile — was located minutes after sirens sounded in the Lachish region and Ashdod.

Many residents of southern Israel reported hearing multiple blasts.

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A source in Gaza said the attack was the result of an internal dispute inside the Islamic Jihad terror group, which has included kidnappings of people in northern Gaza.

The source said Islamic Jihad recently appointed a new commander to oversee the northern region of the coastal enclave.

The new commander was supposed to start his new position on Tuesday officially, but his predecessor opposed it, sparking clashes between the two commanders’ supporters.

The new commander’s men then kidnapped two operatives working under the former commander and, in retaliation, the predecessor’s followers decided to fire rockets at Israel.

Hamas security forces searched the area from which the rockets were launched and detained several suspects, according to the source.

The attack marked the first time a Grad rocket, which can go farther than the smaller Kassams more commonly shot out of Gaza, had been fired at Israel since the summer war.

Since Israel and Hamas reached a ceasefire in August 2014 — which put a halt to the 50-day war in Gaza — the IDF has reported on numerous instances of weapons tests within the Gaza Strip, some of which triggered false alarms in Israel’s southern communities around the coastal enclave.

There have also been several cases of isolated rocket fire from the Strip apparently directed at Israel.

The last barrage took place on April 23, as Israel’s Independence Day celebrations came to a close.

Israel is wary of Gaza terrorist groups rearming after war. The IDF says Hamas has been conducting test launches in recent months, in order to increase its rocket-launching capabilities.

Some 2,100 Palestinians were killed in the war and tens of thousands more left homeless, according to Palestinian and UN tallies. Israel, which lost 66 soldiers and six civilians in the conflict, said the high civilian toll in Gaza was due to fighters there embedding their military infrastructure in residential areas.

AFP contributed to this report.

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