Israel launches scores of air strikes on Gaza Strip

Israeli fighter jets bomb alleged Hamas facilities in besieged enclave, with a man and a woman reported injured in Rafah

Israeli fighter jets bombed multiple alleged Hamas targets in the Gaza Strip early on Friday, hours after two rockets were launched at Tel Aviv.

Witnesses said powerful explosions from the air strikes rocked buildings in Gaza and lit the skies over targeted sites.

Following the overnight exchanges, sirens sounded again in Israeli border towns after dawn broke.

Health ministry officials in Gaza said two people, a man and a woman, were wounded when their house was damaged in Rafah in the early morning.

The Israeli military said its Iron Dome defence system intercepted all but one of six more missiles that were fired at Israel.

In a statement, the Israeli military said it had struck “approximately 100 military targets” belonging to Hamas, which governs Gaza.

The statement included photographs of several sites the military said it targeted, including what it called the headquarters of Hamas’s West Bank operations, a rocket manufacturing site, and a naval post which it described as a weapons depot.

The Reuters news agency was unable to immediately verify the claims.

The incident comes only weeks before Israeli parliamentary elections, set for 9 April.

Buildings evacuated

There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the firing of the missiles but Israeli journalist Barak Ravid cited an unidentified Israeli official as saying Hamas did not fire the rockets.

Palestinian Islamic Jihad, another Gaza faction, also denied being involved in the incident, Reuters reported.

Palestinian news media reported strikes throughout Gaza, from Rafah in the south to the north of the densely populated coastal strip that is home to two million Palestinians.

Some of the buildings targeted had been evacuated as a precaution, as Hamas had expected an Israeli response.

Israel says Hamas responsible

“We are still checking which group did the firing. We don’t know who carried it out,” Israel’s chief military spokesman, Brigadier-General Ronen Manelis, told Israel Radio, as quoted by Reuters.

“The Hamas organization is the main organization in the strip. It is responsible for what happens within the strip and what emanates from it,” he said.

That was echoed by US President Donald Trump’s special representative for Middle East negotiations, who only minutes after the first reports were issued on Thursday said Hamas was responsible.

“Hamas violently suppresses its own people demonstrating against Hamas’ rule & failures today and NOW fires rockets at cities in Israel. OUTRAGEOUS!” Jason Greenblatt wrote on Twitter.

“We strongly support Israel in defense of its citizens. Always!”

The attacks occurred two weeks before the anniversary of the Great March of Return protests, in which thousands have demonstrated weekly against Israel’s siege of Gaza.

The protests in Gaza have resulted in hundreds of Palestinian deaths and tens of thousands more wounded.

Since the protests began, one Israeli soldier was shot dead by a Palestinian sniper along the frontier and another was killed during an undercover raid into Gaza.

Elections next month

The last time rocket sirens were activated in Tel Aviv was two years ago during a false alarm, Israeli daily Haaretz reported.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and military leaders are holding security consultations in response to the rockets, Israeli media also reported.

Netanyahu hopes to hold onto power in the upcoming election, but his ruling Likud Party faces a serious challenge from Benny Gantz, a former chief of staff of the Israeli army.

Political observers raised concerns that the rockets fired from Gaza may be used as a pretext for Israel to launch a military assault on the besieged Palestinian territory.

Taking aggressive military action against Palestinians has long been a way for Israeli politicians to shore up support at home, or distract the Israeli public from other pressing domestic issues.

Earlier this week, Israeli Education Minister Naftali Bennett, one of Netanyahu’s allies, said Gantz was Hamas’s preferred candidate to win the elections.

“Gantz is Hamas’ wet dream,” Bennett tweeted on Wednesday morning, as reported by far-right news outlet Israel National News.

“If Hamas leaders had the right to vote, they would vote for Benny Gantz, the ‘hesitating general’.”