Israel launched airstrikes in the Gaza Strip overnight Thursday-Friday, hitting a series of sites belonging to the Hamas terror group, in retaliation for a barrage of rockets from the Palestinian enclave as well as from Lebanon — attacks Israel blames on Hamas.
In the early hours of Friday morning, Israel also staged strikes in Lebanon, targeting “terrorist infrastructures belonging to Hamas” in the southern part of the country. Hamas has a strong presence in southern Lebanon’s Palestinian refugee camps.
The Israel Defense Forces said in a statement Friday that Israel “will not allow the Hamas terrorist organization to operate from within Lebanon and holds the state of Lebanon responsible for every directed fire emanating from its territory.”
After no additional rockets were fired in the morning, the military after several hours removed all restrictions on border towns — which had required residents to stay near bomb shelters — in what was seen by Hebrew media as a sign that the IDF was viewing the current flareup on the Gaza front as over.
The current round of violence began Tuesday following clashes between Israeli security forces and Palestinians at the Al-Aqsa Mosque on the flashpoint Temple Mount site in Jerusalem’s Old City. That led Thursday to rocket fire from Gaza and, in a significant escalation, an unusual barrage of nearly three dozen rockets from Lebanon into northern Israel. The fighting comes during a delicate time — when Jews are celebrating the Passover holiday and Muslims are marking the holy month of Ramadan.
Similar tensions spilled over into an 11-day war between Israel and Gaza’s Hamas rulers in 2021.
On Friday, at least three explosions were heard in southern Lebanon’s Tyre region at dawn on Friday, according to AFP reporters. “At least two shells fell near” a Palestinian refugee camp near Tyre city, said camp resident Abu Ahmad, who told AFP he “heard explosions.”
A missile fell on a farmer’s house near the camp, causing material damage, an AFP correspondent in the area said.
The pro-Iranian Hezbollah channel Al-Manar reported that the shelling had targeted three areas in southern Lebanon, including the refugee camp area.
Overnight, the IDF said it first struck two tunnels operated by Hamas, two weapon production sites, and an anti-aircraft missile launcher.
The first Hamas tunnel struck by the IDF was located near the northern Gaza city of Beit Hanoun, the military said. The second, near the southern Gaza city of Khan Younis, was first struck during the 2021 Gaza war. The IDF said it had identified recent efforts to rebuild it.
“The two tunnels did not cross into Israeli territory and did not pose a threat to Israeli civilians,” the military said in a statement, confirming the strikes.
Additionally, two sites allegedly used by Hamas to manufacture weapons were targeted.
The IDF said its airstrikes in the early hours of Friday were in response to “Hamas’ security violations” in recent days.
Later in the early hours of Friday morning, the IDF said a drone took out a heavy machine gun in northern Gaza. The military said the weapon was used to fire at Israeli aircraft amid the strikes over the Palestinian enclave, and at Israeli territory.
Hamas members also launched anti-aircraft missiles at Israeli aircraft.
The shoulder-launched missiles are not thought to pose a threat to Israeli fighter jets, although they often set off incoming rocket siren alarms in southern Israel.
In response to the strikes, Palestinian terrorists launched more rockets at southern Israel on Friday morning, prompting fresh Israeli airstrikes.
In the second round of strikes on Friday morning, fighter jets took out a shaft from an underground weapons production site, three other sites for weapons manufacturing, a tunnel, and a series of observation posts, all belonging to Hamas, the military said.
“The strikes were carried out in response to Hamas’ security violations in recent days,” the military said, in reference to rocket attacks from the Gaza Strip and a major barrage of 34 rockets fired from Lebanon toward northern Israel on Thursday, in the largest such attack in some 17 years.
“The IDF holds the Hamas terrorist organization responsible for all terror activities emanating from the Gaza Strip and it will face the consequences of the security violations against Israel,” the IDF said.
A Hamas spokesperson said in a press statement Friday that the “resistance was capable of repelling [Israel’s] aggression against our people” and that the terror organization will act as “a shield and a sword for our people and the Al-Aqsa Mosque,” where clashes between Palestinians and Israeli forces broke out Tuesday night.
In a statement, Hamas said Israel was “responsible for this aggression and its consequences” and called for all Palestinian groups to unite against “the occupation”.
Israel “will pay the price for its crimes,” said the spokesperson.
lsraeli warplanes launch an attack on Gaza. pic.twitter.com/NmJvLCCjJq
— TIMES OF GAZA (@Timesofgaza) April 6, 2023
Israel has reportedly been in contact with Egypt, which has served as a mediator with Gaza-based terror groups, with officials telling Cairo that any further possible escalation would depend on the response to the airstrikes by Hamas and other groups.
Late Thursday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu convened the high-level security cabinet to discuss the security developments and weigh Israel’s response.
“Israel’s response, tonight and later, will exact a significant price from our enemies,” Netanyahu said in a brief statement after the meeting, which lasted around three hours.
The statement did not provide further details on any decisions made by the ministers.
“The defense establishment is prepared with a high level of readiness in all arenas…we will know how to act against any threat,” Defense Minister Yoav Gallant tweeted.
At the start of the cabinet meeting, Netanyahu said that ongoing internal debates in Israeli society would not prevent the country from responding firmly and significantly to escalating violence — a reference to the national crisis over his government’s plans to dramatically overhaul the judiciary.
“We are all, without exception, united on this,” he said, adding that the country “will hit back at our enemies, and they will pay the price for every act of aggression.
“Our enemies will learn again that during times that we are tested, Israeli citizens stand together united.”
As Israel launched its retaliatory strikes in Gaza in the early hours of Friday morning, incoming rocket sirens sounded in the southern city of Sderot and other nearby towns.
Footage shared online showed Iron Dome interceptor missiles over the area, apparently engaging rockets launched from the Gaza Strip.
Several Iron Dome interceptions near Sderot. pic.twitter.com/ujIZhnW2xy
— Emanuel (Mannie) Fabian (@manniefabian) April 6, 2023
The IDF said 44 projectiles, including rockets and anti-aircraft missiles, were launched from Gaza at southern Israel overnight.
In a briefing with reporters, military spokesman Daniel Hagari said nine of the rockets failed to cross the border and fell short in the Palestinian enclave, 12 were fired toward the sea, 14 landed in open areas in Israel, one landed in a populated area in the southern city of Sderot, and eight were intercepted by the Iron Dome air defense system.
Hagari said the Israeli Air Force struck over ten Hamas targets in Gaza using around 50 tons of munitions.
Regarding the IAF strikes against Hamas targets in Lebanon, Hagari said “The state of Lebanon is considered responsible for everything that happens in its territory, and even for the firing [of rockets] by Hamas Palestinian factions. We will not allow Hamas to operate from Lebanon.”
Sherry Vazana, a mother of a nine-month-old girl, whose home was hit overnight by an apparent rocket in Sderot, told the Ynet news site she intended to move away from the city with her family due to the bombardment.
“For us, it means leaving Sderot now. I don’t want to raise my daughter in a situation that destroys her mental health already at nine months old,” Sherry said.
Though none of the family members were harmed, the rocket caused damage to the home’s lounge area and knocked the electricity out, she added.
שרי וזאנה משדרות שביתה נפגע הלילה מטיל: "ישנו בממד. ניצלנו. אני אעזוב את שדרות כבר מחר. לא רוצה לגדל את הבת שלי במצב הזה וכבר בגיל 9 חודשים להרוס את נפשה". pic.twitter.com/cJKtIh4tkS
— matan tzuri מתן צורי (@MatanTzuri) April 7, 2023
Some local leaders in the south criticized the government for what they described as insufficient action against the Gazan terrorists.
“We must put it on the table — there are no dead terrorists in Gaza,” said Sderot Mayor Alon Davidi. “This means that this policy of granting immunity to terrorists who are making our lives miserable is continuing. To change this equation, we must do other things. It’s time for the government and the prime minister to adopt a policy of eliminating them,” he demanded, noting the wide-scale anti-terror campaign going on for many months in the West Bank.
Several other mayors of local and regional councils in the south were quoted by Hebrew media as saying that only targeted assassinations of Gazan terror operatives would “restore deterrence.”
Tamir Idan, head of the Sdot Negev Regional Council, said the “measured response” overnight “doesn’t restore deterrence and conveys a bad message to terrorists in Gaza and Lebanon.” He too urged targeted killings and said he expected “decisive and painful” action soon.
Rockets in the north
On Thursday afternoon, dozens of rockets were fired from southern Lebanon with several intercepted by the Iron Dome air defense system over northern Israel, officials and the military said. At least three people were injured.
Israeli officials said 34 rockets had been fired toward the border with five landing inside Israel, four with unknown impact sites, and the rest downed by Iron Dome.
Another two rockets were launched later in the evening toward the northern town of Metula, without causing any damage or injuries.
Such a massive barrage would make this the largest number of rockets fired from Lebanon since the 2006 war, during which thousands of rockets were launched at Israel. In August 2021, Hezbollah fired 19 rockets at northern Israel.
There was no immediate claim of responsibility, and a Hezbollah source told the Al-Arabiya network Thursday that it was not behind the rocket fire, apparently blaming Palestinian groups based in the area. However, it was unlikely they would attack without at least the tacit approval of the Iran-backed terror group that controls southern Lebanon.
Two people were lightly hurt by shrapnel in the rocket attacks.
The salvo also came just hours after Hezbollah said it would support “all measures” Palestinian groups may take against Israel after clashes at the Al-Aqsa Mosque on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem.
Israeli police clashed with Palestinians inside Islam’s third-holiest site Tuesday night and on Wednesday, sparking an exchange of rockets and air strikes with terrorists in Gaza, with fears of further escalation. Similar clashes two years ago erupted into a bloody 11-day war between Israel and Hamas.
Hezbollah’s warning raised the specter of an even wider conflict.
Rockets have intermittently been fired from Gaza at Israeli communities since the clashes broke. Israel struck targets in the Strip in response. There have since been further rounds of violence at the Al-Aqsa Mosque, as well as clashes in a few Arab Israeli communities.
The rocket barrage from Lebanon came a day after Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh arrived in Beirut for what Hamas sources called a “private visit.” Media reports said he was meeting with Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah.
Haniyeh met on Thursday with the heads of other Palestinian organizations as Israel threatened a military response to the rocket fire. In his statement, Haniyeh called on “all Palestinian organizations to unify their ranks and intensify their resistance against the Zionist occupation.”
Hezbollah has close ties with Hamas, which rules Gaza, and with the Palestinian Islamic Jihad group, which is also based in the coastal enclave.
AFP contributed to this report.