The Israeli military struck targets in the Gaza Strip on Tuesday in response to an early morning barrage of at least 28 mortar shells from Gaza at communities in southern Israel, with the Hamas terror group identifying one of the targets as its training facility.
The military said 35 targets were struck by warplanes operating over the Strip.
Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman said the military struck a tunnel as well as “terror targets” in a “massive and strong” retaliatory attack.
“Hamas and Islamic Jihad are paying the price and we’ve only starting settling accounts,” he said in a tweet.
The strikes came shortly after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had vowed to respond “with great force” to the mortar shells, one of which landed just outside a kindergarten less than an hour before children were due to arrive.
The military said the tunnel that was struck extended from Rafah in Egypt through Gaza and into Israel. They described it as a “unique” attack tunnel.
A Hamas spokesperson declared that “Israel will fail in the attempt to change the rules of the conflict and set a new equation on the ground.
“The resistance in the Gaza Strip reserves its right to react or remain silent in accordance with the interest of our people, and this does not come out of weakness,” he said.
A Palestinian official in Gaza cited by Haaretz said that terror groups were likely to refrain from responding to the Israeli strikes if there were no fatalities. The source added that Egypt was in talks with Hamas, Islamic Jihad and Israel in an effort to prevent a large-scale confrontation.
“Israel views the attacks on it and on its communities by Hamas and Islamic Jihad from the Gaza Strip with great severity,” Netanyahu said earlier, during a conference in the northern Galilee region, ahead of urgent security consultations set to take place later in the day.
“The IDF will retaliate with great force to these attacks,” the prime minister added. “Israel will make anyone trying to harm it pay a heavy price, and we view Hamas as responsible for preventing such attacks against us.”
As a matter of policy, the Israeli army considers Hamas, which rules Gaza, to be responsible for any attack emanating from the beleaguered coastal enclave.
Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman called a “special situational assessment” at army’s Tel Aviv headquarters with IDF Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot and other senior figures from Israel’s security services, his office said.
The attacks, which triggered three rounds of sirens in the Sha’ar Hanegev and Eshkol regions, were apparently mounted by the Iranian-backed Palestinian Islamic Jihad terror group in revenge for the IDF killing three of its members in a cross-border exchange earlier in the week.
It appeared to be the largest attack from the Gaza Strip, in terms of the number of projectiles fired, since the 2014 war, known in Israel as Operation Protective Edge.
One person was lightly injured.
Most of the shells were intercepted by the Iron Dome missile defense system.
In a statement, Islamic Jihad described its attack as “a blessed response of the resistance,” adding, “our people’s blood is not cheap.”
Judah Ari Gross contributed to this report.