Israel bombs Hamas sites in retaliatory Gaza strikes; rocket sirens sound in Sderot

Army says facilities storing chemicals for missiles and for manufacturing weapons hit; small armed group claims second volley of rockets in response to sanctions against prisoners

Emanuel (Mannie) Fabian is The Times of Israel's military correspondent

Fire and smoke rise above buildings in Gaza City during retaliatory Israeli airstrikes on the Palestinian enclave, after rockets were launched at Israel, early on February 2, 2023. (MOHAMMED ABED / AFP)
Fire and smoke rise above buildings in Gaza City during retaliatory Israeli airstrikes on the Palestinian enclave, after rockets were launched at Israel, early on February 2, 2023. (MOHAMMED ABED / AFP)

Israeli Air Force warplanes carried out sorties in the Gaza Strip early Thursday in response to a rocket attack on southern Israel hours earlier, as a new round of rocket alarms sounded in Sderot and nearby towns, the military said.

The Israel Defense Forces said its jets bombed a site where the Hamas terror group stores chemicals used to make missiles. It also struck a facility where the group manufactures weaponry, the army said.

The Palestinian Shehab news outlet reported that Israel bombed “resistance sites” in central Gaza.

Footage published by Palestinian media outlets showed fireballs exploding amid the densely populated coastal enclave.

Israel considers Hamas, which rules the Strip, responsible for any attack emanating from the enclave regardless of whether the group was behind it.

“The strike deals a serious blow to Hamas’s ability to fortify and arm itself,” the IDF said in a statement.

“The Air Force destroyed Hamas weapons production and storage sites tonight. Any [rocket] fire at the State of Israel or any attempt to harm the lives of the residents of the south will be met with the strength of the IDF,” Defense Minister Yoav Gallant said on Twitter on Thursday morning.

The Israeli bombing runs came hours after a rocket launched toward the southern city of Sderot on Wednesday evening was intercepted by the Iron Dome air defense system, the IDF said.

Sirens went off again in Sderot and other nearby towns several times as Israel carried out the airstrikes.

The IDF later said that 12 projectiles were fired from the Gaza Strip during the airstrikes, but not all of them were rockets. Some were anti-aircraft missiles aimed at Israeli jets, and others were rockets aimed at Israeli towns.

The military said 11 of the projectiles exploded in open areas in Israel or mid-air, and one rocket fell short in the Strip.

The Iron Dome air defense system was not activated in any of the cases, the IDF said.

The military did not respond to the further attacks overnight, but only to the initial rocket on Wednesday evening.

In the earlier rocket attack, a woman in her 50s was lightly hurt after slipping while running to a bomb shelter in Sderot, medics said. She was taken by the Magen David Adom ambulance service to a nearby hospital for treatment.

A large piece of shrapnel caused minor damage to a road, the Sderot municipality said.

The rocket attack was the second in recent days, with the region convulsed by increasing violence. On January 26, Palestinian fighters fired two missiles at Israel, in response to a deadly raid in the West Bank earlier that day. Then as well, Gazans fired a fresh volley of rockets at Israel when it carried out an ensuing round of airstrikes early the next morning.

Rocket shrapnel found in the city of Sderot following an attack from the Gaza Strip, Febuary 1, 2023. (Sderot Municipality)

The National Resistance Brigades, the armed wing of the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine terror group, claimed responsibility for the second round of rocket fire on southern Israel Thursday morning, saying in a statement that it was a response to the “systematic aggression” of the Israel Prison Service against Palestinian inmates.

The military wing of Hamas, the Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades, as well as the smaller Mujahideen Brigades faction, both claimed their fighters fired anti-aircraft weapons and ground-to-air missiles at the Israeli planes carrying out the attacks.

There were no reports of injuries on either side.

The Wednesday attack also seemed to be in response to reports of a crackdown by the Israel Prison Service (IPS) against Palestinian inmates in Israeli jails, especially female prisoners.

Images and a video circulating on social media shortly after the attack Wednesday showed three Iranian-made 107mm Fadjr-1 projectiles, similar to the shrapnel found in Sderot, with text on them reading: “The female prisoners are a red line.”

It was unclear which armed group had issued the footage, and there was no immediate claim by any of the Gaza-based terror groups for the rocket fire Wednesday.

The Prisons Service has been taking disciplinary actions against so-called security prisoners — Palestinians held on terror charges — who had been allegedly celebrating recent terror attacks in Israel. The Kan public broadcaster said the moves were also being taken against female Palestinian prisoners, some of whom have been transferred to solitary confinement and have had their rooms searched.

The network said Islamic Jihad had threatened a response over the jailers’ actions.

Earlier Wednesday, National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir ordered the Prisons Service to shutter two bakeries inside detention facilities that were supplying security inmates with fresh bread.

The minister said the rocket attacks would not deter him from taking measures against prisoners.

“The [rocket] fire from Gaza will not stop me from continuing to work to abolish the summer camp conditions of murderous terrorists. I give my full support to the Prisons Service to go into the [prison] wings and restore order,” he said.

National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir speaks to the press at Jerusalem’s Shaare Tzedek hospital on January 28, 2023 (Courtesy Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

Tensions have been high as the IDF has pressed on with an anti-terror offensive mostly focused on the northern West Bank to deal with a series of attacks that left 31 people in Israel dead in 2022, and seven more in an attack on Friday.

The IDF’s operation has netted more than 2,500 arrests in near-nightly raids. It also left 171 Palestinians dead in 2022, and another 35 since the beginning of the year, many of them while carrying out attacks or during clashes with security forces, though some were uninvolved civilians.

Israeli troops operate in the West Bank, early February 1, 2023. (Israel Defense Forces)

On Friday night, a Palestinian gunman from East Jerusalem killed seven people and injured three more in the capital’s Neve Yaakov neighborhood, and the next morning, a 13-year-old Palestinian shot and wounded two Israeli men near the Old City.

There has also been a rise in revenge attacks by Israelis against Palestinians following the two terror attacks.

The IDF bolstered forces in the West Bank following the recent incidents.

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