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Israel mulls response to Gaza rockets on Tel Aviv: ‘An unacceptable event’

Jerusalem reportedly wants to avoid escalation but also send clear message that it will not tolerate such attacks; Hamas said to warn of response if IDF strikes enclave

Emanuel (Mannie) Fabian is a breaking news editor at the Times of Israel.

Illustrative: Rockets are launched towards Israel from Gaza City, controlled by the Palestinian Hamas terror group, on May 18, 2021. (Mahmud Hams/AFP)
Illustrative: Rockets are launched towards Israel from Gaza City, controlled by the Palestinian Hamas terror group, on May 18, 2021. (Mahmud Hams/AFP)

Unnamed Israeli defense officials speaking to Hebrew media on Saturday vowed that the military would respond to two rockets launched from the Gaza Strip that landed off the coast of Tel Aviv earlier in the day.

“There will be a response, this is a serious and unacceptable event. The last word has not been said,” a defense official told Kan news.

According to the Walla news site, Israel conveyed a message to Egyptian mediators that it views the rocket fire as a serious matter, especially after an Israeli civilian was shot on the Gaza border on Wednesday.

Defense officials told Walla Israel was seeking to respond in a way that would “not cause an escalation but convey the message that incidents on the border and rocket launches are unacceptable.”

Beirut-based Al-Mayadeen TV, citing unnamed sources, said the Hamas terror group informed Egyptian mediators that if Israel strikes in Gaza, it would lead to a response.

Egypt reportedly urged Israel not to respond at all to the rocket fire, but this course of action appeared unlikely.

On Saturday morning, the Israel Defense Forces said two rockets were fired from Gaza toward central Israel. Video circulating on social media showed one explode in the sea off the coast of Jaffa, while the second reportedly impacted off the coast of Palmachim, south of the city of Rishon Lezion.

According to Kan, Israeli officials believe the Palestinian Islamic Jihad terror group was responsible for the rocket fire, and not Gaza’s rulers, Hamas. The network said Hamas conveyed to Israel via Egyptian mediators that it was not responsible.

Armed factions in Gaza blamed the rocket fire on “weather conditions,” and said it was not an intentional action against Israel. Previously, terror groups have said lightning strikes were responsible for setting off rockets, though Israel has sometimes doubted such claims.

Israel reportedly informed Egypt that the incident was unacceptable, regardless of whether the rockets were launched by accident.

Islamic Jihad raised its level of alert on Saturday afternoon and evacuated bases in the Strip, anticipating Israel’s response, according to Al-Mayadeen and Palestinian media reports.

Al-Mayadeen’s sources added that the military wing of Islamic Jihad received instructions from the group’s leadership to be ready to respond in the event of the death of a hunger-striking Palestinian prisoner.

Hisham Abu Hawash, a Palestinian from the small town of Dura, near Hebron, has been on a hunger strike in protest of his detention by Israel for 137 days, according to his lawyers.

Palestinians participate in a solidarity rally with hunger-striking Palestinian administrative detainee Hisham Abu Hawash in his hometown Dura, near Hebron, on December 7, 2021. (WAFA)

Hamas in a statement said it was also closely watching the condition of Abu Hawash, warning that he is being subjected to “a slow execution.”

Palestinian factions in Gaza have regularly threatened renewed violence in response to the conditions of hunger-striking prisoners. Most of these threats have not materialized; in most cases, Israeli authorities either agree not to renew the detainees’ detention or the prisoners end their fast.

Israeli soldiers near the site of where a civilian was injured by gunfire from the Gaza Strip, in southern Israel, on December 29, 2021. (Flash90)

The rocket fire came after an Israeli civilian was shot on the Gaza border on Wednesday, prompting retaliatory strikes by the IDF.

The lightly-injured Israeli man was a worker for a civilian firm hired by the Defense Ministry for maintenance of the recently completed security barrier separating Israel and the Palestinian enclave.

After the shooting, the IDF said tanks targeted several Hamas outposts in northern Gaza. The Hamas-run Gaza Health Ministry said three Palestinians were wounded.

The incidents came after a relatively quiet period and amid intense efforts to reach a stable, long-term ceasefire following a major escalation of violence last May which saw thousands of projectiles fired at Israel and the IDF responding with strikes.

However, reports in recent days have suggested efforts have stalled for a potential deal that would see Hamas release two Israeli civilians and the bodies of two IDF soldiers it is believed to be holding, likely in exchange for Palestinian prisoners.

Times of Israel staff and Aaron Boxerman contributed to this report.

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