Israeli aircraft strike Gaza after rocket attack near Netanyahu event

IDF confirms it hit several Hamas sites in retaliatory raid after PM warns that whoever was behind missile fired toward Ashkelon should ‘start packing their things’

Illustrative: An Israeli airstrike in Khan Younis, in the southern Gaza Strip, November 27, 2019. (Abed Rahim Khatib/Flash90)
Illustrative: An Israeli airstrike in Khan Younis, in the southern Gaza Strip, November 27, 2019. (Abed Rahim Khatib/Flash90)

Israeli military aircraft carried out strikes in Gaza early Thursday, hours after rocket fire toward the southern city of Ashkelon forced Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to halt a campaign event and take cover.

The Israeli military said warplanes and helicopter gunships struck several targets belonging to the Hamas terror group, “including the group’s military complexes.” It said the strikes were in response to Wednesday’s rocket fire.

The Hamas-linked Shehab news outlet earlier reported strikes around 1 a.m. near a port west of Khan Younis in southern Gaza.

The outlet also reported an attack on a “resistance site” in northern Gaza.

There were no immediate reports of casualties from Gazan authorities as the sites were empty.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu waves as he is taken offstage during a Likud primary campaign rally in Ashkelon as rocket alerts sound, December 25, 2019. (Screenshot: Ynet)

On Wednesday night, Palestinian terrorists broke a period of relative calm surrounding Gaza, firing a single rocket toward Ashkelon.

The projectile was shot down by the Iron Dome missile defense system, the IDF said.

Netanyahu was in the middle of a campaign event in Ashkelon at the time and was forced to evacuate to a bomb shelter along with the dozens of supporters in the room.

This was the second time since September that Netanyahu had to be evacuated as a result of rocket fire from Gaza during a campaign event in the south.

Two rockets were fired at Ashdod and nearby Ashkelon from Gaza a week before the September national elections, triggering sirens that forced Netanyahu to rush off stage during a live broadcast of an address to Likud supporters.

The prime minister returned to the stage on Wednesday night after approximately 15 minutes and issued a threat to the terrorists behind the attack.

“The person who fired the rocket last time is no longer with us. The person who did it this time should start packing their things,” he said.

The prime minister was referring to last month’s assassination of Baha Abu al-Ata, a Palestinian Islamic Jihad terror leader who Israel believes ordered the rocket attack in September.

No Palestinian group claimed responsibility for Wednesday’s attack. Such sporadic launches of rockets and ensuing Israeli airstrikes have happened frequently despite an Egyptian-brokered cease-fire that ended two days of fighting in November.

In a statement early Thursday, the Israeli military said it held Hamas, the de facto ruler in the Strip, responsible for any activities in the Strip. “It will suffer the consequences of activities against Israeli citizens,” the army said.

In most cases, senior politicians refrain from announcing their visits to the area surrounding the Gaza Strip ahead of time out of concerns that it could attract attacks. That was not the case with the September and Wednesday night events. In both cases, the prime minister had publicized that he would be attending in advance. The Likud leadership primary is scheduled to be held Thursday.

An Israeli missile launched from the Iron Dome defense missile system, designed to intercept and destroy incoming short-range rockets and artillery shells, is seen above Gaza City on November 13, 2019. (MAHMUD HAMS / AFP)

Last week saw a series of mortar and rocket attacks, as well as several attempts by Palestinians to breach the border fence separating Israel and the Gaza Strip.

However, on Monday Israel said it was extending the Gaza fishing zone back to 15 kilometers, a sign of a return to calm.

Agencies contributed to this report.

Most Popular
read more: