The Hamas terror group on Sunday reacted to overnight Israeli strikes in Gaza, which came in response to rockets being fired at Israeli cities, warning that the “aggression” would not deter it from further attacking the Jewish state.
“The Zionist occupation is bombing the Gaza Strip with aggression and a continued siege against residents of the Strip,” Hamas spokesperson Hazem Qassem said in a statement translated by Hebrew-language media.
“This aggression will reinforce our people’s insistence on continuing the legitimate struggle against them, and will not stop the Palestinians’ efforts to achieve liberty via expulsion of those who occupy” the Palestinian people, he added.
Hamas is a terror group committed to Israel’s destruction, and it has ruled Gaza since taking over the territory from the Palestinian Authority in a bloody coup in 2007. It has since fired tens of thousands of rockets at Israeli civilians and fought three wars with Israel.
The Israel Defense Forces said that warplanes and helicopter gunships carried out attacks on Hamas targets in northern Gaza just after midnight Sunday morning, hours after a rocket was fired from the enclave at southern Israel.
It said a Hamas “war room” and underground facilities used by the terror group were hit, among other assets.
“The attacks were carried out in response to high-trajectory fire and the launch of incendiary balloons from Gaza into Israel,” the army said in a statement.
The Hamas linked Shehab news site earlier reported Israeli attacks on targets near Beit Lahia in the north of the Strip.
There were no reports of injuries.
The Defense Ministry also announced it was freezing cement imports and other punitive steps in response to near daily attacks from the Strip recently.
On Saturday night, a rocket fired out of Gaza landed in an open area the Sha’ar Hanegev region, as tensions in the restive region ramped up.
No damage or injuries were reported.
The attack occurred while Blue and White party leader Benny Gantz and other top members of his faction were visiting the area, forcing them to hold their meeting with residents in a bomb shelter.
האזעקה בזמן ביקורו של בני גנץ באחד היישובים בעוטף. נשארו לשבת בחדר המוגן. pic.twitter.com/ScqXTeI2Tr
— almog boker (@bokeralmog) February 1, 2020
The area has seen a marked increase in violence over the last several days, with near daily rocket fire and launches of suspected balloon borne bombs, drawing retaliatory airstrikes.
Israel said late Saturday that was suspending cement imports into the Strip in response to the attacks.
It also said it was cutting the number of commercial entry permits given to Gazans by 500 starting Sunday. Israel currently gives out 5,500 permits.
Israel has allowed cement imports into the Strip since 2014 under a mechanism overseen by the UN designed to ensure building materials are used for civilian purposes and not constructing tunnels or other military infrastructure.
In 2016, Israel froze cement imports for 45 days after a cross-border tunnel was discovered.
“The decision was made following security consultations and in light of repeated terror activity from the Gaza Strip against Israeli citizens over the past weeks, which have represented a violation of Israeli sovereignty,” the Defense Ministry unity charged with liaising with Palestinian civil authorities said in a statement.
Saturday was the fourth day in a row in which terrorists in the Strip fired rockets or mortar shells at southern Israel.
Throughout the day on Saturday, a number of balloons suspected of carrying explosive devices were launched from the Gaza Strip into southern Israel.
Balloon clusters were found in the Lachish and Merhavim regional councils to the east of Gaza. Police sappers were called to handle the potential bombs.
Explosive devices and incendiary devices tied to balloons have increasingly been floating over the border from Gaza in recent weeks.
Late last month a senior Hamas official said the recent string of balloons was a signal to Israel to accelerate unofficial “understandings” meant to ease the blockade on the territory ruled by the terror group.
Defense Minister Naftali Bennett has not commented on the recent round of violence. The Blue and White party on Friday called for a Knesset debate on Sunday to address the situation.
Tensions between Israel and Gaza have been steadily rising over the past two weeks after several months of relative calm. Fears have mounted in recent days of an escalation of violence in Gaza and the West Bank following the release of the US peace plan that is seen as heavily favoring Israel.
On Wednesday evening, the military announced it was deploying additional troops to the Gaza border and West Bank amid concerns that Palestinians may respond violently to the peace plan, which was released on Tuesday.
Judah Ari Gross contributed to this report.