Israel strikes Hamas targets in Gaza after rocket fire on south
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Tensions high, as Israel searches for Hamas attack tunnels

Israel strikes Hamas targets in Gaza after rocket fire on south

Terror group claims IAF raid hit brickworks in Khan Younis, but witnesses say Hamas military wing struck, causing significant damage

Smoke rises following an Israeli air strike in Rafah, in the southern Gaza Strip, on May 5, 2016. (AFP/Said Khatib)
Smoke rises following an Israeli air strike in Rafah, in the southern Gaza Strip, on May 5, 2016. (AFP/Said Khatib)

Israeli fighter jets struck Hamas targets in the southern Gaza Strip early Saturday, the Israel Defense Forces said, following rocket fire from the Palestinian enclave at an Israeli population center close to the border.

“Earlier today… a rocket was fired from the Gaza Strip at southern Israel,” an IDF statement read. “In response… aircraft targeted two Hamas terror infrastructures in the southern Gaza Strip.”

It was Israel’s fifth series of airstrikes since Wednesday, when tensions spiraled over IDF efforts to locate attack tunnels dug by Hamas from Gaza into Israeli territory.

One of the two rockets fired from Gaza landed in an open area of the Eshkol regional council overnight Friday-Saturday. The second fell close to the border fence, Army Radio said. There were no injuries or damage reported in either strike. Air raid sirens sounded across the region as the rockets were fired.

Israeli soldiers stand guard with their tank along the border between Israel and the Gaza Strip near the southern Israeli kibbutz of Nahal Oz on May 4, 2016. (AFP/Menahem Kahana)
Israeli soldiers stand guard with their tank along the border between Israel and the Gaza Strip near the southern kibbutz of Nahal Oz on May 4, 2016. (AFP/Menahem Kahana)

Hamas security sources said the IAF raid hit two brickworks in the southern city of Khan Younis, causing damage but no casualties. But witnesses said two missiles hit a base of Hamas’s military wing east of the city, causing significant damage.

The incident comes after the IAF carried out raids on Hamas targets in the Strip on Friday, following mortar fire directed at IDF soldiers earlier in the day, in tit-for-tat exchanges of fire between Hamas and Israel. There were no immediate reports of injuries.

Mortar shells were fired from Gaza at troops on Friday morning, causing no injuries in what the army said was the 12th incident in three days. The soldiers were operating near the southern edge of the coastal enclave, according to the IDF. The Israeli jets subsequently targeted a Hamas site in southern Gaza, the army said.

“The repeated attacks against the IDF activities to locate and destroy cross-border tunnels will not be tolerated. Hamas’s diabolical plan to infiltrate into Israeli communities must be stopped. The IDF has the obligation and a duty to safeguard the people in southern Israel and the sovereignty of our borders, we will continue to do so,” said IDF spokesman Peter Lerner in a statement.

Palestinian media reports on Friday afternoon said Israel and Hamas reached a truce agreement, brokered by Egypt, which would go into effect immediately. But the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories, Major General Yoav (Poly) Mordechai, stressed that despite reports, no such agreement had been reached.

“The army intends to maintain its activities against Hamas as it continues to breach Israeli sovereignty and build tunnels,” he said.

A picture taken on May 6, 2016 from the Israeli side of the border between Israel and the Gaza Strip shows the exit of a newly unearthed Hamas attack tunnel. (AFP PHOTO / JACK GUEZ)
A picture taken on May 6, 2016 from the Israeli side of the border between Israel and the Gaza Strip shows the exit of a newly unearthed Hamas attack tunnel. (AFP/Jack Guez)

Friday was the fourth day in a row in which IDF troops on the border came under mortar fire, as troops worked to unearth cross-border underground passages from the Gaza Strip. No troops have thus far been injured in the attacks, although some engineering vehicles have been damaged, according to the army.

On Thursday, a Palestinian woman was killed when Israeli tank shells hit her home east of Khan Younis in the southern Gaza Strip, according to the southern city’s Nasser Hospital. The woman was identified by the hospital as Zeina al-Amour, 54.

Palestinian media also reported that a number of people were injured in a series of Israeli airstrikes in the area of Rafah on Thursday, also in the southern Gaza Strip. The IAF confirmed its aircraft hit four military posts belonging to Hamas, the de facto rulers of the Palestinian enclave, Thursday afternoon.

Also Thursday, Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon warned Hamas that Israel would not tolerate any attempts to disrupt the lives of its citizens.

“Terrorist elements in the Gaza Strip need to know that if they try to disrupt our lives, they will be delivered a severe blow,” he said at a service to mark the end of Holocaust Remembrance Day. “We will not tolerate a return to a routine of shooting and attempts to harm our civilians and soldiers. We will take firm action with an iron fist, as we have in the past few days, against the terrorist organizations in the Strip, led by Hamas, which is responsible for the shooting and incidents in Gaza.”

Earlier in the day, the IDF revealed that it had discovered another Hamas attack tunnel burrowing into Israeli territory from the Gaza Strip. It was the second such tunnel discovered in a month. The second tunnel, which is slated to be destroyed in the coming days, is 28 meters (90 feet) deep and was located just a few kilometers from the location of another tunnel discovered and destroyed last month, the army said.

Israeli tanks stationed near the border between Israel and the Gaza Strip on May 6, 2016 as Israeli forces search for Hamas attack tunnels leading into southern Israel. (AFP PHOTO / JACK GUEZ)
Israeli tanks stationed near the border between Israel and the Gaza Strip on May 6, 2016 as Israeli forces search for Hamas attack tunnels leading into southern Israel. (AFP/Jack Guez)

Despite the increased tension along the border with Gaza in recent weeks, the years since the 2014 conflict, known as Operation Protective Edge, have been the quietest in over a decade, in terms of rocket fire and attacks coming from the coastal enclave.

Since the discovery of the first attack tunnel last month, the IDF and the Israeli government have stressed there are no indications of an imminent large-scale conflict with the Hamas terrorist organization.

Hamas has similarly voiced through proxies that it does not wish to renew conflict with the Jewish state at this point in time.

AFP and Judah Ari Gross contributed to this report.

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