Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Saturday that Israel will not tolerate a single rocket fired from the Gaza Strip, and that Hamas would reap the consequences of further such attacks. “If there’s an escalation of hostilities, Hamas will be to blame,” Netanyahu said.
After a rocket was fired into southern Israel on Friday afternoon, the prime minister said Israel’s retaliatory air raid targeted a Hamas factory that was producing cement to rebuild the terror tunnels destroyed and damaged in last summer’s war.
The Israeli air strike Friday night was the first by Israel on the Palestinian enclave since the summer truce that ended the 50-day war between the sides. It came in response to the fire from Gaza earlier on Friday that saw a rocket land in open terrain in the Eshkol region.
“Israel’s security is our first priority and Israel won’t tolerate the firing of a single rocket without a response,” Netanyahu said at a Hannukah ceremony at Jerusalem’s Western Wall. “That’s why the air force responded and destroyed a cement factory used for rebuilding tunnels that were damaged in Operation Protective Edge.”
Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon said Saturday that Israel’s strike on the Gaza Strip the night before was an “unequivocal message” to Hamas.
“We consider Hamas responsible for what happens in the territory of the [Gaza] Strip, and we shall respond to it with force if it doesn’t prevent rocket fire at Israel,” Ya’alon said.
Hamas threatened to hit back at Israel after Israeli jets struck the Gaza Strip, but a Hamas official also said that the group was prepared to maintain the ceasefire if Israel also wanted to.
“We are interested in continuing the current policy,” Moussa Abu Marzouk said, according to a report by Israel Radio.
Earlier in the day Hamas Prime Minister in the Gaza Strip Ismail Haniyeh said that the Israeli airstrikes constitute “a grave violation of the ceasefire agreement.”
“We will protect and guard the resistance’s victory in the last conflict,” Haniyeh said. “We call on Egypt as the guarantor of the agreement to act and stop the violations by the enemy.”
Another senior Hamas member said Saturday that “the resistance [as Hamas calls itself] has the right to respond to Israeli aggression at the time and place of its choosing.”
Ismail al-Ashqar warned that Israeli action “against Palestinian fishermen and agriculture workers [was] a dangerous escalation.”
The Israeli navy and army regularly fire warning shots at Gaza fishing boats that stray beyond the six nautical miles off the coast allowed by Israel and at farm workers who come too close to the security fence, respectively.
Gaza residents reported low-flying Israeli aircraft over the Palestinian enclave and multiple airstrikes. Unconfirmed reports indicated Israeli warships may also have shelled the Gaza Strip.
A spokesman for Gaza‘s Hamas-run Health Ministry said there were no casualties in the attack.
The IDF Spokesperson’s Unit said in a statement that Israeli planes “struck Hamas terror infrastructure site in the southern Gaza Strip” in response to Friday’s rocket attack, and that a direct was confirmed.
“The IDF will not permit any attempt to undermine the security and jeopardize the well-being of the civilians of Israel,” Spokesman Lt. Col. Peter Lerner said. “The Hamas terrorist organization is responsible and accountable for today’s attack against Israel.”
Friday night’s airstrike came following a rocket attack on southern Israel on Friday afternoon. Palestinians in Gaza fired a Kassam rocket at an Israeli community in the Eshkol region near the Gaza Strip, causing neither casualties nor damage.
It was the third time that Gaza terrorists have fired rockets at Israel since the conclusion of Operation Protective Edge, last summer’s war between Israel and Hamas in the Gaza Strip.
IDF soldiers swept the area Friday and found the remains of the rocket.
AFP contributed to this report.