Israel strikes ‘rocket factory’ in Gaza after rockets launched at south

IDF says air strikes target underground Hamas facility in central Strip in retaliation for four rockets lobbed toward Israel hours earlier

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

The Israeli military struck the Gaza Strip early Friday morning, hours after four rockets were launched at Israel from the Hamas-run Palestinian enclave.

The Israel Defense Forces said it launched airstrikes at a “unique” underground rocket manufacturing facility used by the Hamas terror group.

It published a satellite photo of what it said was the site, showing an area near several buildings and agricultural plots on the northwest edge of the al-Maghazi refugee camp in central Gaza. It said it was the third such facility hit since April.

“The strike was carried out in response to launches from Gazan territory to Israeli territory earlier this evening,” the IDF said in a statement just before 4 a.m.

The commander of the IDF Southern Command’s so-called “fire center,” which coordinates the unit’s offensive operations, said the site was bombed with 19 tons of munitions.

“It will result in harming the Hamas terror group’s attempts to build up and arm itself,” said Col. Yud, who can only be identified by the initial of his first name in Hebrew.

The Palestinian Shehab news agency said a “resistance site” in al-Maghazi had been hit.

There were no immediate reports of injuries.

Photos shared on social media showed fireballs and smoke in Gaza from the airstrikes. Successive strikes could be seen hitting the same area repeatedly in unverified video footage as jets were heard screaming overhead.

Amid the strikes, Palestinians apparently fired heavy machine-gun fire at Israeli aircraft over the coastal enclave. At least one home in the southern city of Sderot was struck by a large bullet as they fell back down to earth.

The retaliatory attack came after four rockets were launched from the Gaza Strip toward Israel Thursday.

One rocket was intercepted by the Iron Dome air defense system over a border town, and the other three fell short in the Strip, according to the Israeli military.

There were no reports of injuries or damage following the rocket attacks.

No Palestinian group has claimed responsibility for the launches, but the IDF said it held Hamas responsible.

The rocket fire came hours after a member of Palestinian Islamic Jihad was killed during an Israeli military operation in the West Bank city of Jenin. The Gaza-based PIJ identified Farouk Salameh as a “commander” in the terror group.

In a joint statement, the IDF and Border Police said Salameh was involved in the killing of a veteran police commando earlier this year, and had been planning further attacks.

In this undated photo, Farouk Salameh is seen wearing a Palestinian Islamic Jihad uniform in the West Bank city of Jenin. (Social media)

Israel generally responds with airstrikes against Hamas sites regardless of the group launching the attack, noting that it is responsible for any attacks emanating from the territory. More rarely, it has directed its response at Islamic Jihad, if the terror group claimed responsibility.

The last time rockets were fired from the coastal enclave toward Israel was during a three-day battle against Islamic Jihad in August, during which it launched some 1,175 rockets.

Tensions have soared in the West Bank recently as the IDF has pressed on with an anti-terror offensive mostly focused on the northern West Bank, though the violence has not generally spread to Gaza.

The campaign has netted more than 2,000 arrests in near-nightly raids, but has also left over 125 Palestinians dead, many of them — but not all — while carrying out attacks or during clashes with security forces.

Earlier Thursday, Israel said it was removing checkpoints in and out of the city of Nablus. Israel had imposed the restrictions weeks ago, clamping down on the city in response to a new terror group known as the Lions’ Den. The military has conducted repeated operations in the city in recent weeks, killing or arresting the group’s top commanders.

The IDF’s anti-terror offensive in the West Bank was launched following a series of Palestinian attacks that killed 19 people earlier this year.

An Israeli man was killed in an attack in Hebron on Saturday, another woman was killed in a suspected attack in September, and four soldiers have been killed in the West Bank in attacks and during the arrest operations.

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