The Israel Defense Forces launched airstrikes on Hamas targets in the Gaza Strip late Tuesday night and early Wednesday in response to a rocket attack from the coastal enclave earlier in the evening, the army said.
Fighter jets hit a number of targets in southern Gaza, including one site “for the production of arms,” the IDF said.
“The strikes were carried out in response to the rockets that were fired from the Strip toward Israel. The Hamas terror group is responsible for all violence emanating from the Strip,” the army said.
Before dawn Wednesday, the IDF said it carried out a second wave of strikes, targeting an underground facility in northern Gaza.
Shortly after the air raids reportedly began, sirens sounded in the city of Ashkelon, sending tens of thousands of residents rushing to bomb shelters.
There were no immediate reports of injuries or damage. The IDF said it was investigating what triggered the alarms. The Ashkelon municipality said the sirens appeared to have been set off by anti-aircraft fire from the Gaza Strip.
Moments before the strikes began, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warned terror groups in Gaza they were making a “serious mistake” by firing the two rockets at Israel on Tuesday night.
“If someone in Gaza thinks it’s safe to attack us after Operation Black Belt — they’re making a serious mistake. We will respond aggressively to any attack against us, and will continue to ensure the security of Israel on all fronts,” Netanyahu said in a statement, referring to the 48 hours of intense fighting between the IDF and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad terror earlier in the month.
One of the projectiles was shot down by soldiers operating the Iron Dome missile defense system, the army said. The second appeared to strike an open field in the Sha’ar Hanegev region of southern Israel.
No injuries or damage was caused by the rockets, though one woman was lightly injured when she fell while running to a bomb shelter.
The rockets triggered alert sirens in the southern town of Sderot and surrounding communities.
“Searches are currently underway for impact sites,” a spokesperson for the Sha’ar Hanegev regional council said.
On Tuesday, Palestinians in the West Bank marked a in response to a recent decision by the United States supporting Israeli settlements.
The attack from Gaza came after a “day of rage” protests by thousands of Palestinians in the West Bank in response to a recent US announcement that it no longer believes that Israeli settlements in the West Bank violate international law.
At Israeli checkpoints near Ramallah, Bethlehem and Hebron, dozens of protesters threw stones at Israeli forces who responded with tear gas.
Dozens of protesters were lightly hurt, according to Palestinian rescue services.
Tuesday night’s rocket attack also came a day after Palestinian terrorists in the Strip fired a mortar shell at southern Israel, apparently striking an open field in the Eshkol region, Israeli authorities said.
The attacks followed several days of relative calm on the Gaza front following the flare-up earlier this month.
The renewed fire came as a Qatari official said Monday aid money would be handed out on Wednesday to Gaza residents, as part of an unofficial ceasefire agreement between Israel and terror groups in the Strip.
Qatari envoy Mohammed al-Emadi said 70,000 poor families will each receive $100 from postal banks in the Strip. In the past year, these banks have on several occasions distributed $100 Qatari grants to tens of thousands of needy families in the coastal enclave.
Israel and Islamic Jihad fought a two-day skirmish on November 12-13, after the IDF killed Baha Abu al-Ata, a top commander in the terror group. During the fighting, the terror group fired some 450 rockets and mortars at the Jewish state, which responded with a series of retaliatory airstrikes in Gaza.
Unlike in previous rounds of fighting, the Hamas terror group stayed on the sidelines, and Israel avoided hitting it as well.
Since then, in a rare shift, Friday protest marches were called off along the Gaza border for two weeks in a row. The move — being only the third and fourth time the weekly demonstrations were canceled since they began in late March 2018 — was seen as marking an attempt by Gaza’s Hamas rulers to avoid fresh confrontation with Israel.
The High National Commission for the March of Return and Breaking the Siege, which includes representatives of Gaza-based terror groups and political factions, said the protests were canceled last Friday to allow “the Palestinian people to continue to provide assistance to family members of martyrs and wounded persons and those whose homes were damaged in the Israeli aggression.”
Adam Rasgon contributed to this report.