Israel hits Gaza for third time after major uptick in rocket fire overnight

12 rockets fired at Israel from Gaza since Thursday night, damage caused to Sderot home, as violence escalates along restive border region

Smoke rises in the distance after Israeli warplanes carried out airstrikes over Khan Yunis, in the Southern Gaza Strip early morning on August 21, 2020. (Said Khatib/AFP)
Smoke rises in the distance after Israeli warplanes carried out airstrikes over Khan Yunis, in the Southern Gaza Strip early morning on August 21, 2020. (Said Khatib/AFP)

Israeli warplanes carried out a third round of airstrikes in Gaza early Friday morning in response to a rocket barrage several hours earlier, capping off a night that saw multiple rounds of missile launches and reprisal raids as simmering tensions threatened to escalate.

The Israel Defense Forces said that at around 6 a.m., fighter jets and other aircraft carried out strikes on “underground infrastructure belonging to the Hamas terror group,” in response to the attack earlier in the evening in which seven rockets were fired at southern Israel from the Strip.

According to the IDF, six of the rockets were intercepted by the Iron Dome missile defense system. A home in the southern Israeli town of Sderot sustained considerable damage in the attack.

“We hold Hamas responsible for all terror activity emanating from Gaza,” the military added.

The IDF later released footage of the strikes, saying it showed aircraft bombing Hamas “military facilities, weapons production sites and underground infrastructure.”

The raid was the third of the night, after two earlier sorties targeted a cement facility used to provide materials for tunnels used by Gazan terror groups and a site where rockets are produced.

The Shehab news outlet, which is linked to the Hamas terror group which rules the enclave, reported that at least one person was injured during the strikes east of Khan Younis, in southern Gaza. The Gaza health ministry did not report any injuries.

The Iron Dome anti-missile system fires interception missiles seen in the sky in the early morning of August 21, 2020. (MAHMUD HAMS / AFP)

The volley of seven rockets was fired at 2:30 a.m., joining five projectiles that were shot at Israel late Thursday night, two of which failed to reach Israeli territory and three of which were shot down by the Iron Dome system, according to the military.

The 12 rockets mark a major escalation of violence, even as tensions have ramped up over the past several weeks with sporadic rocket fire and hundreds of balloons carrying incendiary devices being launched toward Israel, drawing near daily Israeli reprisal fire.

Pictures and videos shared on social media of the home that was struck in Sderot showed a kitchen blown apart, windows smashed and large holes in walls and the roof.

“We didn’t hear the siren and suddenly there was a loud blast,” Shlomo Malka, the owner of the house, told Ynet news. “We got out of bed and ran to the bomb shelter. When we came out we saw everything was destroyed. The whole kitchen is in shambles, the food for Shabbat is ruined.”

Reports indicated that the damage was likely caused by shrapnel from an interception.

Other videos and pictures showed several Iron Dome interceptor missiles being launched over the city and light damage to the outside of a home.

The Magen David Adom rescue service said three people were treated for anxiety attacks and another woman suffered light injuries sustained while running to a bomb shelter.

Smoke and flames rise in the distance after war planes belonging to the Israeli army carried out airstrikes over Khan Yunis, Gaza Strip, on August 20, 2020. (SAID KHATIB / AFP)

The night of fighting capped a day in which at least 42 fires were sparked by balloon-borne incendiary devices lofted from Gaza, according to the Fire and Rescue Service. A statement from the fire service said most of the blazes were small and didn’t pose any danger to people or property.

An incendiary balloon is released by Palestinians into Israel near al-Bureij refugee camp along the Israel-Gaza border, on August 12, 2020. (MOHAMMED ABED / AFP)

Over the past few weeks, terrorists in the enclave have again begun launching balloon-borne incendiary and explosive devices into southern Israel, sparking dozens of fires that caused environmental and property damage in the region.

Those attacks have drawn daily retaliatory Israeli strikes against Hamas installations.

The apparent uptick in fighting late Thursday and early Friday comes amid truce efforts being brokered by Egypt.

A ceasefire in place for years, which has already been renewed several times, is bolstered by millions of dollars in financial aid from Qatar to Gaza. But complaints from Hamas that Israel has failed to live up to its side of the bargain have been accompanied by sporadic flare-ups on the border.

The truce provided for permits for Gazans to work in Israel and financing for Gaza development projects, both measures that would provide some economic relief in an impoverished territory where unemployment exceeds 50 percent.

Sources told AFP the twin issues were at the root of the latest flare-up.

A source close to Hamas said the Israeli government told the Egyptian delegation it expected a “return to calm” before considering implementation of truce provisions such as “the extension of the eastern Gaza industrial zone” and the construction of a new power line to the territory.

Illustrative: Israeli soldiers extinguish a fire near Kibbutz Kissufim caused by an incendiary balloon launched from the Gaza Strip, on August 19, 2020. (Menahem Kahana/AFP)

On Tuesday, Gaza officials announced that the Strip’s sole power station had run out of fuel and would stop operating. Israel cut off fuel transfers via the Kerem Shalom crossing a week ago as a punitive measure following the rocket and balloon attacks.

Also on Tuesday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Israel would respond to airborne arson attacks in the same manner it does rocket attacks, and warned that there could be another major flareup in Gaza.

“I regret that we are also preparing, to the extent necessary, for the possibility of a round or rounds [of fighting]. I hope that we will not get there,” he told local leaders of Gaza-area communities.

AFP contributed to this report.

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