Israel strikes Gaza after rocket attack as fighting shifts following Jenin offensive

IDF says weapons factories used by Hamas chemical unit and rocket-makers targeted in strikes; Gazans say homes damaged; Jenin returnees said to find rubble

Emanuel (Mannie) Fabian is The Times of Israel's military correspondent

Smoke and flames rise above buildings after Israeli air airstrikes in Gaza City, on July 5, 2023. (Mohammed Abed/AFP)
Smoke and flames rise above buildings after Israeli air airstrikes in Gaza City, on July 5, 2023. (Mohammed Abed/AFP)

The Israeli military struck two sites in Gaza early Wednesday in retaliation for rocket fire on southern Israel hours earlier.

The flareup in Gaza came as a massive military operation in the West Bank drew to a close, with hundreds of Israeli troops withdrawing from Jenin after two days of intense fighting in the Palestinian refugee camp.

Warplanes struck “an underground weapons workshop used by the chemical unit of the Hamas terror group and a site for processing rocket components,” the Israel Defense Forces said in a statement just before 5:30 a.m.

It said the strikes were carried out in retaliation for rocket fire on southern Israel earlier in the day.

A Palestinian security source said there were no injuries.

Palestinian media reported that Israeli planes hit sites in al-Baydar, west of Gaza City, and Beit Lahiyeh, in the northern Strip. Several homes in al-Baydar were damaged, according to Palestinian reports.

Several hours earlier, the Iron Dome air defense system managed to knock down five rockets fired out of Gaza toward the city of Sderot and nearby areas.

Shrapnel from an interceptor hit a home in Sderot, causing damage to a ceiling, but no injuries.

There was no claim for the rocket fire. Israel says it holds Hamas, which rules the Strip, responsible for all attacks emanating from the territory regardless of the group launching the attack.

The rocket fire was the first from the coastal enclave since May 14, at the tail end of a five-day flareup in violence between the IDF and Islamic Jihad in Gaza.

It came as Israeli troops pulled back from Jenin following a 44-hour-long incursion targeting terror groups in the Palestinian refugee camp adjacent to the West Bank city.

The IDF had already been on high alert for potential rocket fire from Gaza in response to the Jenin raid, with authorities canceling a large concert in the southern city of Sderot on Monday, although no other precautions were issued.

As troops began to withdraw, an Israeli soldier was killed in a shooting attack, the IDF said, as fighting persisted in some areas. Palestinian health officials said 13 Palestinians were killed and dozens wounded over the course of the operation, which began early Monday.

IDF spokesman Rear Adm. Daniel Hagari said the army was investigating if the soldier was hit by Palestinian gunfire or so-called “friendly fire” by other Israeli forces in the area.

Shrapnel rains down over southern Israel, near the city of Sderot, after five rockets launched from the Gaza Strip are intercepted by the Iron Dome air defense system, July 5, 2023. (Courtesy)

He said at least 18 Palestinian gunmen had been killed by Israeli forces.

All of the slain Palestinians were involved in the fighting, but there were some noncombatants among the wounded, according to the IDF.

Israeli and Palestinian officials also reported fighting near a hospital in Jenin late Tuesday. An Associated Press reporter on the ground could hear explosions and the sound of gunfire. Palestinian hospital officials told the official Wafa news agency that three civilians were hit by Israeli fire.

Earlier Tuesday, a Hamas terrorist rammed his car into a crowded Tel Aviv bus stop and began stabbing people, wounding eight, including a pregnant woman who reportedly lost her baby. The attacker was killed by an armed bystander. Hamas said the attack was revenge for the Israeli offensive.

Over 1,000 IDF troops were involved in the campaign, which appeared to be the largest in the West Bank in some 20 years.

Rubble on the streets of the West Bank city of Jenin, following a major Israeli offensive, July 4, 2023. (Nasser Ishtayeh/Flash90 )

Jenin Mayor Nidal Al-Obeidi said around 4,000 Palestinians, nearly one third of the camp, had fled to stay with relatives or in shelters.

Just after midnight, residents began returning to the streets. There was no immediate confirmation from the military that the army had completely pulled out.

Returning residents described finding devastation, with roads torn up and buildings reduced to rubble.

Kefah Ja’ayyasah, a camp resident, said soldiers forcibly entered her home and locked the family inside.

“They took the young men of my family to the upper floor, and they left the women and children trapped in the apartment at the first floor,” she said.

Residents of the Jenin refugee camp evacuate their homes as the Israeli military pressed ahead with an operation in the area, in the West Bank Monday, July 3, 2023. (AP/Majdi Mohammed)

She claimed soldiers would not let her take food to the children and blocked an ambulance crew from entering the home when she yelled for help, before eventually allowing the family passage to a hospital.

The IDF denied blocking ambulances or emergency crews.

The military operation began shortly after 1 a.m. on Monday with a series of airstrikes against multiple targets in the city, including a joint war room shared by various armed groups in the city.

Throughout the campaign, the IDF said, troops located and demolished at least eight weapon storage sites, six explosives labs with hundreds of primed devices, three war rooms used by Palestinian gunmen to observe Israeli forces, and other “terror infrastructure.” The IDF said it had also seized 24 assault rifles, 8 handguns and dozens of bullets.

Troops also carried out some 20 drone strikes against various targets in the refugee camp.

Palestinian gunmen take up positions during a confrontation with the Israeli army in the West Bank city of Jenin on July 3, 2023. (Nasser Ishtayeh/Flash90)

The northern West Bank, and especially the city of Jenin and its environs, has long been considered by the IDF as a hotbed of terrorism, highlighted by a string of attacks in early 2022, many of which were carried out by residents of the area.

According to the IDF, since last year, some 50 shooting attacks were carried out by residents of the area, and 19 wanted Palestinians escaped to Jenin to seek refuge there from Israeli forces.

Tensions between Israelis and Palestinians have been high across the West Bank for the past year and a half, with the military carrying out near-nightly raids, amid a series of deadly Palestinian terror attacks.

Since the beginning of this year, Palestinian attacks in Israel and the West Bank have killed 24 people.

According to a tally by The Times of Israel, 147 West Bank Palestinians have been killed during that time — most of them during clashes with security forces or while carrying out attacks, but some were uninvolved civilians and others were killed under unclear circumstances.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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