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Israel carries out airstrikes in Gaza in response to rockets off Tel Aviv coast

Warplanes and helicopters hit Hamas targets after defense officials vow retaliation to ‘serious and unacceptable’ launches; terrorists fire anti-aircraft weapons at Israeli forces

File: Smoke and fire following an airstrike in Khan Yunis in the southern Gaza Strip, early on January 2, 2022. (Said Khatib/AFP)
File: Smoke and fire following an airstrike in Khan Yunis in the southern Gaza Strip, early on January 2, 2022. (Said Khatib/AFP)

The Israel Defense Forces carried out retaliatory airstrikes in Gaza late Saturday night after two rockets fired from Gaza landed off the Tel Aviv coast on Saturday morning.

“Fighter jets and helicopters attacked a series of targets in a rocket production facility belonging to the Hamas terror group,” the IDF said in a statement.

Israeli tanks also shelled Hamas military posts near Gaza’s border with Israel.

Hamas media said Israeli warplanes struck a Hamas outpost west of Khan Younis, in the southern part of the Strip, while tanks targeted outposts in northern Gaza.

“Hamas is responsible and bears the consequences for all activity in and emanating from the Gaza Strip,” the IDF said.

Gaza terrorists fired anti-aircraft weapons at Israeli aircraft during the attack, according to Hamas-affiliated media, apparently without causing any injuries or damage. Palestinian media said two missiles had been fired at Israeli forces.

Palestinian media first reported the airstrikes in the southern part of the Strip shortly before midnight.

In an unusual report, Hamas media claimed “resistance fighters” had launched “experimental rockets” toward the sea during the Israeli airstrikes.

The IDF released video of the strikes by the aircraft and tanks:

Earlier Saturday, unnamed Israeli defense officials told Hebrew media vowed that the military would respond to the 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 said 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.”

The 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.

On Saturday morning, the IDF 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, next to Tel Aviv, while the second reportedly landed 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 its bases in the Strip, anticipating an Israeli 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, claiming 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.

Saturday’s rocket fire came after an Israeli civilian was shot on the Gaza border on Wednesday, prompting retaliatory strikes by the Israeli army.

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 Israeli army said tanks attacked 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 contributed to this report.

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