Israeli jets strike northern Gaza targets following border flare-ups

Raids hit Hamas sites after two shooting attacks on Israeli troops earlier in the day, including one in which bullet struck officer’s helmet

Judah Ari Gross is The Times of Israel's religions and Diaspora affairs correspondent.

An explosion in the northern Gaza Strip from Israeli airstrikes lights up the night sky on January 22, 2019. (Screen capture: Facebook)
An explosion in the northern Gaza Strip from Israeli airstrikes lights up the night sky on January 22, 2019. (Screen capture: Facebook)

The Israel Air Force launched airstrikes against multiple Hamas targets in the northern Gaza Strip on Tuesday night, following two border clashes earlier in the day, including one in which a sniper shot an IDF officer in his helmet, causing light injuries, the army said.

The target of the strike was said to be a Hamas building in the Beit Lahia area of northern Gaza, according to Palestinian media. The structure was reportedly hit by multiple missiles. There were no immediate reports of injuries.

The Israel Defense Forces said the raids targeted “a number of terror targets in a military base belonging to the Hamas terror group in the northern Gaza Strip.”

The Israeli military did not indicate who it believed fired the shots, but said it held Hamas responsible for the violence along the border on Tuesday as the terror group has ruled Gaza since taking control of the enclave in 2007 by ousting the West Bank-based Palestinian Authority.

“The IDF is prepared and ready to act against any terrorist action from the Gaza Strip and is determined to defend the citizens of the State of Israel,” the army said in a statement.

Hamas accused Israel of escalating the situation, saying it was “fully responsible” for the uptick in violence.

“The valiant resistance will not allow our people’s blood to be used as fuel for Israeli election campaigns, and it possesses the will and means to safeguard our great people’s blood and interests,” said Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum, referring to the Knesset elections in April.

The airstrikes came amid a significant increase in violence along the Gaza border Tuesday.

Earlier in the day, shots were fired at Israeli troops stationed along the security fence across from the northern Strip. In response, an IDF tank destroyed a nearby observation post belonging to the Gaza-ruling Hamas terror group.

The helmet of an IDF officer that was hiy by a sniper bullet during a riot along the Gaza border on January 22, 2019. (Courtesy)

On Tuesday afternoon, during a small riot next to the border, another sniper opened fire at a group of soldiers positioned along the border, hitting a Paratroopers Brigade company commander in his helmet, causing light injuries.

Then an IDF tank fired on a Hamas observation post. In that case, however, three Hamas members who had just left the structure were hit by the blast, killing one of them and wounding the other two.

The injured IDF officer was taken to Beerhsheba’s Soroka Medical Center for treatment. A cut on his head was bandaged, and he was released hours later, the hospital said.

In addition to the airstrikes, Israel also halted a previously approved $15 million transfer to the Gaza-ruling Hamas terrorist group from Qatar because of the violence.

“Following the recent incidents in the Gaza Strip, and with consultation with security officials, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu decided not to allow the transfer of Qatari money to the Gaza Strip tomorrow,” an Israeli diplomatic official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

A Hamas official told The Times of Israel that “Netanyahu’s decision to prevent their entry is a crime that will push Gaza toward an explosion.”

Qatar had been preparing to transfer $15 million in payouts to Hamas civil servants in the Gaza Strip. This was the third such installment for the terror group to be approved by the Israeli government, in what officials see as a pressure-release valve intended to calm unrest and ease a potential humanitarian crisis in the beleaguered Strip.

The transfer of the funds to Hamas, which calls for the destruction of the Jewish state, is widely unpopular in Israel. The announcement by the diplomatic official was a rare admission by the government that it had indeed approved the payments.

The funds were expected to be transferred on Wednesday, after they were initially stalled by Israel last week in response to another flare up in cross-border violence, Qatar’s envoy to the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip, Mohammed al-Emadi, told the Reuters news service.

Since March, Palestinians have been holding regular protests on the border. Israel has accused Gaza’s Hamas rulers of using the demonstrations as a cover for attacks on troops and attempts to breach the security fence.

Israel has demanded an end to the violent demonstrations along the border in any ceasefire agreement.

Adam Rasgon contributed to this report.

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