IDF strikes Hamas in Gaza in response to rocket fire, as sustained calm tested

Two incoming projectiles shot down by Iron Dome, others apparently strike open fields; attack sends hundreds of Israelis rushing to bomb shelters

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

The Israeli Air Force launched a series of strikes on Hamas sites in the Gaza Strip Wednesday evening in response to rocket fire on Israeli communities hours earlier, the military said.

According to the Israel Defense Forces, fighter jets attacked several Hamas facilities, including a weapons production site and a military base.

“The attack was carried out in response to the rocket launches from the Gaza Strip at Israeli territory,” the military said in a statement.

Palestinian media reported that one of the strikes targeted a Hamas naval commando facility in central Gaza. Footage of the attack (above) was widely shared on social media.

The military said it held Hamas, the de facto rulers of Gaza, responsible for all violence emanating from the Strip.

A Channel 13 reporter standing in a community near the Gaza border told the television network that he heard at least three explosions from the Gaza side of the border.

Also on Wednesday evening, police sappers were dispatched to the border town of Sderot where a suspicious object attached to a cluster of balloons landed in a residential neighborhood. It appeared to mark the renewal of the arson balloons attacks that torched thousands of acres of Israeli fields along the Gaza border in recent years.

The IDF strikes in Gaza came after terrorists — reportedly belonging to the Islamic Jihad group — fired four mortar shells toward southern Israel, causing neither injury nor damage, according to the army.

Two of the incoming projectiles were intercepted by the military’s Iron Dome air defense system. The other two appeared to strike open fields in Israel’s Sha’ar Hanegev region, east of northern Gaza.

The mortar attack shattered a period of relative calm along the border.

The attack triggered sirens in the Israeli communities of Sa’ad, Kfar Aza and Nahal Oz, sending hundreds of residents rushing to bomb shelters.

The round of mortar fire came three days since alarms last sounded in Nahal Oz, apparently due to heavy machine gun fire from the coastal enclave.

Israel has reportedly warned the Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad terror groups against any attempted response to the US targeted killing of Iranian general Qassem Soleimani earlier this month.

Hamas, which rules the Gaza Strip, expressed its “sincere condolences” to Iran’s leadership after Soleimani was killed in Baghdad on January 3 and hailed his support for the “Palestinian resistance,” but did not issue any overt threat.

Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh speaks at the funeral of Qassem Soleimani, in Tehran, Iran, January 6, 2020. (Office of the Iranian Supreme Leader)

The Islamist group’s leader in Gaza, Ismail Haniyeh, in the past lauded the “strong, powerful and warm” ties Hamas enjoyed with Soleimani, and spoke at the Iranian general’s funeral in Tehran.

The Iran-backed Islamic Jihad, which in November fought a two-day battle with Israel after one its military commanders was killed in an Israeli strike, has yet to respond.

Iran has for years sought to arm the Palestinian terror groups with rockets, mortars and missiles.

The US strike on Soleimani came amid efforts to broker a long-term ceasefire between Israel and Hamas, which have fought three wars since the terror group took control of Gaza in 2007.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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